Suffolk parents battle to secure right school transport for children with special educational needs

Parents have told of the painful battles they are fighting to secure the right school transport for children with special educational needs.

Three weeks into term, some families have told ITV News Anglia that they are still struggling to find consistent transport.

They described the damaging impact it is having on their children, the anxiety it causes them and the disruptive effect it has on their education.

Suffolk County Council said around 60 taxi firms had cancelled contracts with them, citing a shortage of drivers.

One taxi firm even failed to turn up to take Alex to school. Credit: ITV News Anglia

One of the children caught in the middle is seven-year-old Alex, who is autistic. A consistent routine is absolutely vital to his well-being.

So when Suffolk County Council changed the taxi firm driving him to school in Felixstowe every day, it scared him and left his parents facing a challenge to get him to class.

"The first taxi company didn't actually turn up the first day", said his mother Daniela Kentfield. "That was quite distressing for him.

"I think it's all to do with the council wanting to cut costs, which is wrong, because if they knew about autism and how it works I'm sure they'd be more understanding and stick to the same routines, rather than changing it every year. It's not fair on the children."

Bradley's mum says on one occasion a taxi left him at the side of the road Credit: Family photo

Lyndsay Terry, from Somersham near Ipswich, is driving her 11-year-old autistic son Bradley to school at the moment.

She says a taxi left him at the side of the road last year and, after a recent change in provider, he is now refusing to travel.

"He's so heightened with anxiety, he can hardly speak half the time," she said.

"He doesn't want to come out of his bedroom, he doesn't want to come out of the front door. I would say from the minute he opens his eyes in the morning he's asking 'You're not going to put me in that taxi are you?

"When he goes to bed at night time he's still asking: 'You're going to take me tomorrow aren't you mummy, you're not going to put me in that taxi?"

"It's hard to watch if I'm honest. I'm completely stressed every day by it and it upsets me."

Analysis - by Rob Setchell, ITV News Anglia reporter

Navigating a broken special education system is exhausting. As the government's SEND review has concluded, it is "failing to deliver for children, young people and their families."

Many of those families feel they have to fight at every step - for every email response, for every school place, for every taxi ride. For some, even when the battle to secure an in-demand special school place is won, a new one begins over transport.

Lots of the parents who've contacted us cite delays in finding appropriate drivers or poor communication from council departments.

But what is really noticeable is how far many of these children, with additional needs like autism, are travelling for their education.

That inevitably has an impact on council budgets. Suffolk County Council now spends £18m a year on SEND travel. It says that works out at around £7,500 per child, per year.

For every council, in every region, demand is rising - and so are costs.

Suffolk County Council insists taxi changes are not prompted by a need to save money.

It says a shortage of providers and drivers have sparked some issues and changes in a huge school transport system, which takes around 10,000 children to school every day.

"We spend just shy of £30m on that whole process, with about £18m of that invested in SEND travel," said Adrian Orr, assistant director for education, skills and learning.

"There is a tendering process, the council has to get best value for the public purse.

"But we will look, if there is a particular challenge, whether we can meet that to avoid distress to a child and distress to a family."

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