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 Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 24 March, 2014

 

Report of the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Innovation, Planning and Transportation

 

Proposed Guidance on Learner Travel Statutory Provision and Operational Guidance Consultation

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To advise Cabinet that the Council has received a consultation document from the Welsh Government (WG) presenting draft proposals for guidance on learner travel statutory provision and also operational guidance which will replace both the Learner Travel Wales Measure 2008 and the Learner Travel Operational Guidance 2009 (see http://wales.gov.uk/consultations/transport/140113-learner-travel-consultation/?status=open&lang=en). The report also provides a response to the Welsh Assembly Government’s Consultation questions as detailed in the Appendix 1 to this report.

Recommendations

1.         That Members note the contents of the Proposed Guidance on Learner Travel Statutory Provision and Operational Guidance Consultation.

2.         That Cabinet approve the Council's response to the Consultation Questions as outlined at Appendix 1 and that these are sent to the Welsh Government by the closing date of 13th April 2014.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To advise Members of the Consultation.

2.         To allow the Council to issue a Consultation response and to ensure the responses are received by the closing date of 13th April 2014.

Background

2.         The Learner Travel Operational Guidance was published in 2009.  Its main purpose was to provide local authorities and governing bodies of maintained schools with statutory guidance on all aspects of the Welsh Government's home to school and college transport policy.

3.         Under Section 15 of the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 Welsh Ministers have the power to issue statutory guidance.

4.         There have been concerns raised in respect of the clarity offered by certain aspects of the Operational Guidance.  It is important that the Operational Guidance is clear, consistent and easy to understand for all users including parents, pupils, head teachers and local authorities.

5.         Since January 2010 the All Wales Travel Behaviour Code, known as the Travel Code, which is referred to in the Operational Guidance has been in force.  This Code and its accompanying guidance set out the rights and responsibilities of learners when travelling as well as providing advice on how to make a safe journey and it sets out the legal framework for the removal of learners from transport where they are in breach of the Code.

6.         Welsh Ministers have a duty under Section 12 of the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 to review the code from time to time but before finalising the reviews contents they must consult such persons as they see fit.

7.         The purpose of this consultation is to seek the views of key stakeholders, including children and young people on how the Operational Guidance and the Travel Code could be improved.

 

Relevant Issues and Options

8.         The responses to this consultation are required to be received by the Welsh Government no later than 13th April 2014 and responses should take the form of the completion of questionnaires on the Learner Travel Operational Guidance and on the Travel Code. Both of these questionnaires have been completed and are offered as a suggested Council response to the consultation at Appendix 1. 

9.         In 2012/2013 views on how the Learner Travel Operational Guidance was operating in practice were sought from the Welsh Local Government Association, governing bodies of maintained schools and local authorities.  Officers who are involved with Learner Transport from both your Development Services and Education Directorates have been involved in those discussions.

10.      As a result of the feedback received the Welsh Government considered that there was a need to make a number of changes to this guidance to produce clearer more user friendly guidance including explaining key provisions such as:

 

dual residency,

the nearest school,

local authorities' use of discretionary powers,

local authorities changes to home to school transport policy,

journey times,

SEN provision,

learners entitlement to free transport,

transport to Welsh Medium, English Medium and denominational schools,

walking and cycled routes to schools,

parental and head teacher responsibilities and

to make the guidance compliant with wider policy reforms and seat belt policy on dedicated learner transport (Seatbelts are due to become law in October 2014).

 

 

 

 

11.      In addition the Welsh Government has provided some additional information on the provision of post-16 learner travel.

12.      Appendix 1 shows that there are still a number of concerns with the Guidance and Travel Code as proposed by the Welsh Government in this current consultation.  In particular some of the definitions provided are still not clear and some of the penalties suggested for learners when they misbehave on transport are not considered to be strong enough.  The other main concerns are detailed below but reference should also be made to Appendix 1 to ensure that Cabinet are aware of all of the concerns the consultation raises.

13.      The Guidance clearly states that a linguistic or denominational education is a parental choice and therefore local authorities can use their discretion whether or not they provide free transport for these learners.  However, the Guidance also states that the Welsh Ministers have a legal duty to promote access to Welsh Medium Education.  Therefore the withdrawal of free transport to the nearest Welsh Medium School is likely to be unacceptable.  In addition, the Guidance states that a parent's preference for either a Welsh or English Education for their children should be treated equally.  There is a need to provide further clarification on this point in the Guidance to ensure that all local authorities deal with the matter in the same way.

14.    The Guidance on Post 16 transport clearly states that all such transport provision is discretionary by local authorities.  The Guidance also recommends that if Post 16 mainstream transport was to be withdrawn by a local authority, it should also withdraw transport for post 16 SEN pupils.

15.    There is a strong emphasis in the Guidance that local authorities should not cause unreasonable levels of stress to the Learner when considering transport provision.  It also states that transport to the educational establishment should not take an unreasonable length of time.  Although both principles are accepted there needs to be more clarification and examples given on what constitutes an unreasonable level of stress and length of journey time to ensure that the Council can apply this guidance consistently, fairly and confidently without fear of legal challenge.

16.    The Council continues to have a duty to provide transport for looked after children, however, this duty appears now to be placed on Transport Education Directorates as opposed to Social Services Directorates.  It also states that the placing authority of the looked after child is the authority for funding the transport, yet it is the local authority within which the pupil has been placed which is responsible for providing it.  This issue and the consequential data protection matters raised by it have been highlighted in the consultation response.

17.    The Council will also need to continue to provide transport for learners who have a dual residency, however, the consultation response is requesting further clarification on how dual residency is fairly and consistently evidenced.

18.    In respect of Walked Routes to School and whether or not a route is available the Guidance states that it is safe for the Child to walk the route with an escort if the age of the child would call for the provision of an escort.  Section 4 of the 2008 Measure provides that the local authority may be under a duty to provide an escort for that child in some circumstances.  This statement and requirement would place significant financial burdens on local authorities as it would mean that the Council would have to provide an escort for pupils who walk to school.

 

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

19.    None at present but there may well be additional financial and resourcing burdens on local authorities if this guidance is adopted as consulted on.  These additional burdens should be met by Welsh Government and the consultation response makes this clear.

 

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

20.    Transport for learners aids sustainable accessibility and the reduction of single occupancy car movements, therefore having a positive impact on sustainability and climate change.

21.    There is a legal duty on Welsh Ministers within the Measure to promote sustainable measures of travel.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

22.    When delivering Learner Travel Transport the relevant Highways, Transport and Education Act measures and guidelines need to be complied with.  There is a duty on local authorities or governing bodies of maintained schools as a whole to comply with the current learner travel legislation.  The 2011 measure introduced a criminal sanctions regime where if a relevant body fails to ensure that the buses it provides or secures for learner transport have seat belts fitted to each seat from October 2014.

Crime and Disorder Implications

23.    It is proposed that the Travel Code will apply to all transport used by learners.  How this will be enforced is not clear.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

24.    The concept of equal opportunities is a fundamental principle that underlies all of this Council's policies. 

25.    The Guidance deals with Welsh Language and English Language matters on a par.

 

Corporate/Service Objectives

26.    The proposals recommended would assist the quality of life and safety for learners in the Vale. 

27.    The provision of learner travel provides alternative means of travel than the car, and ensures good accessibility for those without access to private transport. This links with the Council's objectives for social wellbeing and tackling disadvantages.

Policy Framework and Budget

28.    This report is a matter for Executive decision by Cabinet.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

29.    Ward Members have not been consulted as this report affects all Wards.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

30.    Economy & Environment

Background Papers

Appendix 1- Consultation Questionnaire responses

 

Contact Officer

Emma Reed - Operational Manager Development Services 01446 704673

 

Officers Consulted

Chief Learning Officer (Education)

Head of Business Management and Innovation (Social Services)

Access and Policy Manager (Education)

Head of Strategy Community Learning and Resources (Education)

Operational Manager Human Resources

Finance Support Manager

Legal - Committee Reports

 

Responsible Officer:

Rob Thomas - Director of Development Services