Special needs transport – emotional evidence heard

The first evidence given to the council’s new children and education policy and accountability committee has uncovered evidence of worrying failures with the new special needs transport service – which the new council Leader has described as ‘horrific’.

Parents, teachers and professionals gave evidence, which was often extremely emotional, to the new committee detailing serious problems with the council’s passenger transport contract – which started in April.

The children and education policy and accountability committee, which met for the first time last week, made the borough’s heavily criticised passenger transport service its top priority after a series of concerning reports emerged.

Residents were invited to share their experiences of the recently outsourced service with committee members at the meeting, on Tuesday (July 8), in order to help shape future council policies in this area.

Parents and carers complained about children and vulnerable adults not being picked up at the right time and of drivers not properly understanding their special needs. Parents of children with special needs gave accounts of drivers and escorts with poor communication skills, overlong journey times and late pick-ups and drop-offs.

Issues were raised about inadequate training for new passenger transport staff, with speakers indicating they were not equipped to cope with the needs of many of the service users they were tasked with looking after.

One parent, whose child uses the service, recounted an incident in which her daughter had been brought home early because the escort assigned to her had too poor a grasp of English to be able to properly look after her. Describing the current service, she said: “It’s just really not acceptable, it does not sit well and does not give me much confidence.”

Jude Ragan, the head teacher at Queensmill Special School, stressed the importance of proper training for new employees, ensuring consistency of staff and making sure that escorts and drivers are given the tools and time to be able to successfully fulfil their duties. These views were echoed by Jack Tizard School governor Michèle Rooney, who said “with each day there is a new issue”.

The new H&F Council Leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, said: “It is clear to anyone who listened to the evidence parents and teachers gave at the borough’s new policy and accountability hearings that this service is a long, long way from where it needs to be.

“We came into office one month ago and there is no bigger priority for us as a council than protecting vulnerable children – especially those with mental or physical disabilities. We have commissioned an urgent root and branch review of this service and, while I am limited by what I can say now, parents and teachers should know that that this awful situation will not be allowed to continue.”

The committee also heard from long-serving passenger transport staff, who raised concerns about the overall standards of the service since the new service began under a tri-borough framework arrangement designed to integrate the services in the tri-boroughs and save costs.

Cllr Caroline Needham, chair of the children and education PAC, said: “Hearing directly from parents, teachers and professionals was invaluable, and the committee would like to extend its thanks to all who took the time to recount their experiences. We will put that information to good use.”

The main areas of the service that the committee is reviewing includes:

  • consistency and reliability of drivers and escorts
  • specialised training for escorts
  • greater attention to the needs of individual children attending a range of after school provision
  • communication with parent, carers and service users
  • customer care

There is a full background report on the matter on the council’s website here.

Details for all of the council’s Policy and Accountability Committees, along with the issues that are due to be discussed, are also available here.