Eastbourne mum takes fight for disabled children’s school transport to Parliament

Leanna with her son Billy
Leanna with her son Billy

An Eastbourne teacher who had to quit her job because the county council withdrew school transport for her disabled son is handing in a petition in Parliament this week.

Leanna Forse’s 17-year-old son Billy has a rare chromosome disorder which means he cannot go to school on public transport and relied on a taxi to get him there, until its funding was withdrawn when he reached 16.

Now Leanna, alongside Contact charity, is rallying Parliament to make sure disabled children can receive council-funded transport up to the age of 18 – the age children have to legally go to school or training until.

The mum, who now works at Embrace East Sussex, 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.”

Contact, a charity which works with families of disabled children, says councils are exploiting a loophole in the law which means this essential transport can be withdrawn.

This loophole means funding transport for disabled teenagers is up to the individual council’s discretion.

Contact says as councils struggle with budget pressures more and more are withdrawing funding for disabled youngsters to receive school transport.

On Thursday (June 7) Leanna and Billy will hand in a petition signed by almost 10,000 families calling on the Government to close the loophole in school transport law for disabled youngsters.

The Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said, “Cuts to school transport mean 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.”

And Una Summerson, of Contact, said, “This loophole in the law is grossly unfair on disabled youngsters.

“It’s why almost 10,000 families have come together to sign our petition calling on the government to stop cuts to school transport.

“We know from our 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.”

Read more about Leanna and Billy’s story here.