An Eastbourne mum and her son have taken their battle for disabled children’s school transport to Number 10 Downing Street today (Thursday).
Leanna and Billy Forse went up to the Prime Minister’s headquarters to hand in a 10,000-signature petition from parents calling for a change in the law.
This comes after Miss Forse had to quit her job after her son, who has a rare chromosome disorder, lost his council-funded school transport when he turned 17.
She said, “When Billy qualified for free school transport, aged six, it allowed me to think about a career and I started a degree, did teacher training and got a job as an English Teacher in a local secondary school.
“I wanted to work and give back to my community and it was amazing to have the opportunity to do that. But when Billy turned 16 I was told that he would no longer get school transport, even though he was staying at the same school.
“It is essential that Billy goes to college, he has therapies there which are helping him progress, so I have given up my job to transport him myself ensuring he stays at college.”
Campaigners, including a charity called Contact, have been fighting for this ‘loophole’ to be closed, as young people are legally expected to continue education until age 18 now.
A Contact spokesperson said, “This loophole means funding transport for disabled teenagers is up to the individual council’s discretion.
“As councils struggle with budget pressures more and more are withdrawing funding for disabled youngsters to receive school transport.”
Contact, which supports families with disabled children, ran a petition calling on the government to close the loophole in school transport law for disabled youngsters.
To date it has received more than 10,000 signatures and today (June 7) affected young people, their families and supporters delivered the petition to Downing Street.
Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd was present at the hand-in. He said, “Cuts to school transport mean that my constituents, like Leanna, have to leave important jobs as teachers to ensure their children get to school.
“It’s a nonsense and could easily be fixed by a small change in the law. Parents with disabled children are doing an enormous service to our economy but are repeatedly bearing the brunt of local authority cuts.”
Una Summerson, Head of Policy at Contact, said, “We know from our school transport inquiry that the impact of losing school transport is huge – with parents having to give up work or disabled teenagers unable to complete their education.
“We understand councils are under enormous budget pressures but we don’t believe the solution is to pass this pressure on to disabled children and their families who already face significant extra challenges and costs.”
An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said, “Once a young person enters post-16 education, the local authority is no longer required to provide free transport to school and in most cases parents or carers are responsible for making travel arrangements for their child.
“We are able to offer travel support to parents of post-16 students with special educational needs and disabilities in exceptional circumstances only.
“A number of factors will be considered when determining whether a student is eligible, including the length and complexity of their journey, whether the parent or carer could reasonably be expected to provide transport and whether they have a suitable vehicle.
“Unfortunately, the student in this case did not meet the criteria and this decision was upheld after being considered on appeal by a panel of councillors.”