Eastbourne college addresses criticised disabled pupil transport policy

Sussex Downs College

Sussex Downs College

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An Eastbourne college has addressed the issue of travel support available to children with additional learning needs.

This comes after the County Council’s post-16 policy recently came under fire for removing free transport from disabled children travelling to college unless under ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Sussex Downs College welcomed parents to a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) transport event on Friday (March 24) to provide information.

Sara Candler, project manager at East Sussex County Council Children’s Services, gave a talk to 30 parents of children with additional learning needs.

She was joined by John North, Travel Training Team Leader of National Star College, and Michelle Nice from East Sussex Parent and Carers’ Council (ESPaCC).

Free school transportation for ages 4-16 year olds is currently provided by the local authority if students with additional needs meet the criteria.

At sixth form age, discretion is used to provide transport for families with the most exceptional circumstances only.

During the information morning, Sara addressed issues raised by parents and provided information on applying for funded transport as early as possible.

The school participation age has raised to 18 but free transport stops at 16 unless there are exceptional circumstances. This misalignment can be a problem for parents.

Alongside the funded transport available, children could receive LIFT (Learning Independence For Travel) training.

The programme sees John North and his team work with up to 12 students at one time across East Sussex. Following a referral, a 10-week assessment is carried out to see if the student could travel to college independently.

Travel Training isn’t suitable for all, but John North and the LIFT team say they work closely with parents to make that judgement. The scheme aims to develop the child’s independence and confidence and reinforce skills including road safety and time recognition.

One parent attending the information morning said, “This event has been really useful. My son starts senior school soon and working out the logistics of his travel is so hard.”

Sara Candler said, “My role is to work closely with schools to make sure parents are applying for transport help early on. The application form is long and comprehensive but we are showing parents the online application system today.

“The main question parents have to ask is: what would happen if my son or daughter didn’t get transport to college? What would they do?”

Penny Mackay, Faculty Director for Progression Studies at Sussex Downs College, said, “We want parents to be fully aware of the situation they face once their child turns 16. We want to provide as much support to local families as possible and hosting an event like this is key to conveying the information.”

Parents who currently receive funded transport to school and require ongoing support can apply for post-16 transport online at www.eastsussex.gov.uk/sendtravel

Meanwhile, Eastbourne mother Leanna Forse said the County Council policy is discrimination towards disabled children, after she was forced to quit her job to take her son Billy to college.

She is asking people to sign a petition calling on the Government to rethink spending £20m on grammar school taxi services for disabled children while cutting transport for children in state education.

The petition is available at: www.change.org/p/justine-greening-mp-stop-20m-funding-for-grammar-school-pupils-taxi-service