Watch: Full report on the ‘horrendous’ school transport situation facing many families
A mother from Kent is being forced to spend four hours a day driving her son to and from school, after the county council ended taxi contracts.
Emma Bennett, from Minster-on-Sea, is one of thousands of parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) who have been affected by changes to transport arrangements in the county.
More than 250 children were unable to get to school yesterday (21 February) because of widespread issues with the new regime.
Kent County Council (KCC) has apologised and said it’s working “around the clock” to resolve the problems. It is responsible for arranging transport for 5,500 children and young people with special educational needs.
It decided to try to overhaul the system because of a 20% increase in the number of children eligible for transport over the past year.
Emma Bennett is yet to be told what the new arrangements are for her 13-year-old son, Matthew. He attends a special school in Canterbury – a 60-mile round trip, which takes two hours at rush hour.
She has been forced to drive him there herself, until a new taxi firm is arranged. Matthew has been using the previous provider for the past five years.
Beckie Green has also resorted to driving her child to school, after no new taxi provider was arranged. She has described the situation as “horrendous” and says the situation is having a really “big effect” on her son.
9-year-old Callum, who has autism, goes to a special school 10 miles away from the family home in Pluckley. His younger sister attends a different primary school in the opposite direction.
Other parents have contacted ITV News Meridian to say they have had to keep their children at home because of the disruption.
Cllr Shelina Prendergast, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Education & Skills said she is “deeply, deeply sorry about the anxiety and the distress that the transport arrangements have caused”.
The council isn't able to say when the problems are likely to be fixed.
A KCC spokesperson added: “Officers have been working hard to match more than 5,500 children and young people with new transport providers and we regret that, despite best efforts, there are some parents still waiting to hear who their child’s new provider will be. All remaining routes are now awaiting confirmation from contractors and we will continue to reimburse parents where they have to make their own arrangements.
“This is not a position we ever anticipated being in and we are immensely sorry for putting parents and young people through this trying time.
“Once provision is fully allocated, we will be conducting a thorough review of what went wrong and why to ensure we learn and put steps in place so this situation is not repeated.
“We understand there will be concerns about new transport providers and we want to reassure parents their child’s needs will be taken into account as assessed by a previous eligibility assessment, including if they need to travel alone or need a passenger assistant.”