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LGO raps county council over lack of clarity on new school transport policy

 

The Local Government Ombudsman has criticised a county council over a lack of clarity in the information it provided to parents about a new school transport policy.

The LGO launched an investigation after receiving 64 complaints from parents after Essex County Council changed the way it offered free school transport to secondary school pupils.

The Ombudsman examined complaints from four sets of parents, which represented issues common to the other complaints it had received.

The LGO concluded that there had been no fault in the way Essex consulted people about the changes to its transport policy.

However, it also found that:

  • The information provided by Essex about its policy during the school application process could have been clearer;
  • The council failed to explain how parents could establish which was their closest school;
  • The council failed to explain clearly how it measured home to school distances;
  • Essex failed properly to consider individual circumstances during the appeal process; and
  • The council did not provide clear decisions for the reasons for its decisions.

Essex has now agreed to ensure its information for parents explains how they can establish which is their nearest school. The local authority will also ensure its transport policy and website contain the correct information about the assessment of home to school distances, and review its school transport appeal procedure.

The council has agreed to offer a fresh appeal to the second parent detailed in the report to ensure her specific circumstances are fully taken into account and the reasons for their decisions are fully explained.

The LGO also recommended that the council should pay the third and fourth parents in the report £300 each in recognition of the lost opportunity to choose a school to which free transport would be provided.

The Ombudsman has called on Essex to review the other complaints received by the LGO in light of its report.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “Selecting the most appropriate school for a child is an important decision for any parent so it is essential that parents are given clear information to help inform their choices.

“When making significant changes to policies which have an impact upon a large number of people, councils have a responsibility to make sure those changes – and their effects – are as clear as possible.

 “I am pleased Essex council has accepted some of my recommendations, and would now call on it to agree to the rest of the actions to remedy what went wrong.”