"It's the really vulnerable people who are affected by this decision"

The Watts
The Watts

In a series of shocking interviews, the Bucks Herald talks to people who have been affected by Buckinghamshire County Council's cruel cuts to free transport for Special Educational Needs Children.

Katherine Watts, who has three young children who will be affected by this decision said: "I read the story of Charlie Garner and was truly shocked by this cruel decision from the council.

"Because they have taken away the opportunity for Charlie to go to college they are taking away his chances of improving himself, his self esteem, perfecting his skills and his chances of becoming more independent, thereby perhaps getting himself out of social housing and into a better life for him and his family."

Buckinghamshire County Council voted to scrap free home to school transport for special educational needs last week.

Buckinghamshire Disability Service, or BuDS described the cuts as 'ill-thought out' and 'damaging'.

Katherine Watts: "For our situation, we have three children with Fragile X Syndrome and ADHD.

"They are 19, 17 and 14. The girls are better off than their brother because they have two x chromosomes.

"Boys have one and if that is damaged, there is no back up. While our eldest has transport to college now, presumably won’t be affected as she is 19, but her sister and brother will be.

"Our 17 year old will be going to Amersham college in September and while it might be possible for her to benefit from a travel training programme, she wouldn’t be able to just get on the bus for her first day of college. She is still vulnerable and would not be able to handle anything untoward that might happen on a public bus. God forbid she is targeted by bullies."

As a replacement for the service BCC have offered to train SEND pupils to use public transport, however this is fraught with dangers.

"Our son will be the most affected in two years’ time because he is now 14 but functioning at about half his age (about 6 or 7).

"By the time he is 16 he might be functioning at 8, but the point is he will never catch up to his peers."

Katherine's son takes a long time to adjust to new people because of his condition, and she is fearful of him being left to his own devices on public transprot.

She added: "Right now there is no way some total stranger, be they specialist or not, would be able to just take him on a bus and “train” him to use public transport.

"He gets stressed with all the independent therapists and Ed Psychs going in to assess him for evidence for our upcoming tribunal. The thought of him going on a bus by himself fills me with dread because he is still vulnerable.

"He doesn’t make eye contact with people he doesn’t know, let along actually speak to them. God forbid this escalates into real anxiety as Meltdown Mode could ensue because he has great difficulty in expressing his feelings and thoughts - again God forbid he is targeted by bullies."

Katherine added she was bemused as to why families who are already overburdened should bear the full brunt of these cuts.

Katherine said: "They are targeting the vulnerable. This isn't the fault of SEND kid's parents, so why do they have to bear the brunt. Some families will not have the money for this, leaving them with a devastating choice.

"It isn't fair to load this all on them.

"Westminister and Buckinghamshire County Council can't just keep passing the buck to parents."

Mike Appleyard, Cabinet Members for Children's Services, said: "The changes we are introducing to home to school transport for young people over 16 with special educational needs and/or disability (SEND) will be introduced alongside increased support.

"This will help them to travel independently so that, where possible, they can develop essential life skills. We will also make sure that young people and their parents are given information to access bursary payments to contribute to costs of their transport. In this way, we aim to minimise disruption to parents, carers and young people wherever possible.”

“We recognise that change can create uncertainties and so we will put in place support early, working with families to understand what these changes will mean to them. For all current transport users that will mean understanding what the impacts are on the ability to travel independently. Where independent travel training and a bursary application is not an option, we explore other choices available.”

“The changes we have introduced to transport for students with a SEND match national policy. We do not wish to cause families concern about school transport and we are continuing with specialist transport support to schools and colleges, but asking for a contribution towards the cost of the transport. Costs for SEND transport have increased by over £3m in the last five years (from around £6m to £9m).”

Students aged 16-19 with a SEND can apply for a bursary to assist with costs if they stay in education. These bursaries are arranged through the Education Funding Agency. They give a guaranteed £1,200 per year to: young people in care, care leavers, young people claiming Income Support or Universal Credit, or those in receipt of Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance.

Schools and colleges also award bursary funding, applying their own criteria to determine how much is paid.

The decision to charge for school transport for students over the age of 16 with SEND was made on Monday 4 March. From September 2019, the County Council will be requesting a contribution to the cost of home to school transport for children with SEND who are over the age of 16. This will replace the free transport offer currently in place.