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|School Transport Bill|
These notes refer to the School Transport Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 14 October 2004 [Bill 162]
SCHOOL TRANSPORT BILL
1. These notes relate to the School Transport Bill as introduced in the House of Commons/Lords on 14 October 2004. They have been prepared by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to inform debate. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.
2. The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.
BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY
3. In September 2003 the UK Government issued Travelling to School: an action plan, which contained a series of measures intended to reduce car use on the home to school journey. The last section described proposals for a Bill which would give Local Education Authorities (LEAs) greater freedom in the way they managed home to school transport. This was also the recommendation of the Audit Commission report Going Places published in November 2001 and the Social Exclusion Report Making the Connections, published in February 2003. The Bill implements proposals in the action plan and reports.
4. The Bill's main purpose is to enable LEAs to run school travel schemes which are tailored to the needs of their area. Initially it provides for LEAs in England and Wales to run pilot school travel schemes. Schemes apply to children who are not above compulsory school age and will replace the existing duties under s509. In all other respects, s509 will continue to apply. The existing arrangements require LEAs to provide free transport for pupils where they consider this is necessary to facilitate attendance at school. LEAs running schemes will instead make whatever travel arrangements they consider appropriate, for which they may charge.
Bill 162EN] 53/3
5. The Bill covers:
6. The Bill extends only to England and Wales.
Territorial application: Wales
7. The National Assembly for Wales ("the National Assembly") has the function of approving school travel schemes made by LEAs in Wales and has the power to make regulations and orders relating to Wales except orders under clauses 4 and 5.
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
Clause 1: LEA Power to make schemes
8. Subsection (1) inserts a new section 509ZAA into the Education Act. Section 509ZAA gives effect to a new Schedule in the Education Act which allows LEAs to make school travel schemes covering home to school travel arrangements for pupils of compulsory school age or below. Where such a scheme is in force the LEA must give effect to it and it replaces the LEA's powers and duties under section 509(1) and (3) of the Education Act in respect of children covered by the scheme.
Schedule 35B: provides detail of content and purpose of school travel schemes
9. Paragraph 1 allows individual LEAs to make school travel schemes for all or part of their area. If two or more LEAs want to work together, they must each make a scheme for their own area, operating in a coordinated way. Schemes made by LEAs will only come into effect if approved by the Secretary of State or (in Wales) the National Assembly.
10. Paragraph 2(1) requires school travel schemes to set out in general terms the type of travel arrangements the LEA considers appropriate for children attending schools (including pupil referral units), further education institutions, or any other place where exceptional arrangements for education are made. A 'child' is defined in section 579 of the Education Act as a person not over compulsory school age.
11. Paragraph 2(2) explains that school travel schemes may cover not only the provision of transport, but also other arrangements such as measures to make walking and cycling all or part of a route to school more attractive. A school travel scheme may include provisions for complete or partial reimbursement of travelling expenses, for example providing a travelcard on public transport, mileage allowances for parents conveying pupils to school in remote rural areas, or a contribution towards the cost of cycle equipment.
12. Paragraph 3 requires LEAs to make transport arrangements for any child who is a registered pupil at a school beyond the statutory walking distances (2 miles for pupils under 8, 3 miles for pupils 8 and over) from the child's home, unless suitable arrangements have been made for boarding at or near the school or for the child to become a pupil at a school nearer the child's home.
13. Paragraph 4 requires the scheme to set out a charging policy. No charge may be made under the scheme for travel arrangements for children from low income families, unless the child has been given an opportunity to attend a suitable school closer to his home but chooses to attend one further afield. For England such 'protected' children are defined as those eligible for free school lunches and milk under section 512ZB(4) of the Education Act. For Wales the definition will be set out in regulations. It will also encompass pupils eligible for free school lunches and milk.
14. Paragraph 5 allows for unpaid charges to be recovered as a civil debt.
15. Paragraph 6 specifies that where a parent or child incurs expenditure as a consequence of a school travel scheme, the expenditure must be reimbursed in the case of a protected child.
16. Paragraph 11 makes provision for the Secretary of State to request information so that he can evaluate the success of schemes and undertake the necessary evaluation. It should be considered in conjunction with other powers conferred through preexisting legislation, particularly section 29(1) and (5) of the Education Act 1996. Section 29(1) requires LEAs to provide information so that the Secretary of State is able to carry out his functions - in this case approving schemes and consenting to changes, for example. Section 29(5) provides that an LEA shall publish information about their policy and arrangements with respect to any matter relating to primary or secondary education, and in this case could relate to the publication of LEAs' schemes.
Clause 2: Piloting of new provisions
17. This clause provides that the new provisions in clause 1 must be piloted in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State or National Assembly subject (in the case of regulations made by the Secretary of State) to negative resolution. Subsection (2) provides that such regulations can provide for there to be a limit on the number of school travel schemes that can be in force while they are being piloted. It is currently anticipated that regulations will impose a limit of 20 school travel schemes in England. The National Assembly will also make regulations which may impose a limit on the number of pilots in Wales. The number of pilots can be expanded, through secondary legislation, if demand from LEAs proves high.
Clause 3: Power to repeal new provisions
18. This clause gives power to the Secretary of State and National Assembly to provide by order that the new provisions will cease to have effect in England or Wales, as the case may be. Such an order may contain transitional provisions and, if made by the Secretary of State, is subject to affirmative resolution. Subsections (3) and (4) provide that the earliest and latest dates on which the new provisions could cease to have effect are 1 August 2011 and 1 August 2013 respectively.
19. It is envisaged that an order under this clause would be made if, as a result of the piloting of the new provisions under clause 2, the effects of the new provisions are not considered a success. If an order is not made the new provisions will continue after the pilot is completed and there will then be no limit on the number of participating LEAs.
Clause 4: Power to amend transport legislation
20. This clause gives power to the Secretary of State to amend section 6 of the Transport Act 1985 in order to exempt school bus services operated under the new Schedule 35B to the Education Act from the requirement, imposed by that section, to be registered with the Traffic Commissioner.
FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE DRAFT BILL
21. The Bill allows LEAs to run school travel schemes, and the financial effects will depend on the nature of individual schemes.
EFFECT OF THE BILL ON PUBLIC SERVICE MANPOWER
22. The Bill will not require any increase in the number of permanent staff in the public service.
SUMMARY OF REGULATORY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
23. The main effect of the legislation is likely to be on bus operators, as the proposals are intended to increase the number of pupils travelling by bus to school. Pupils would travel on existing commercial services, operated commercially or tendered by the transport authority, or else on buses operated by private individuals or companies under contract to the LEA. In a few areas LEAs operate buses, often where there is market failure, but most choose not to because of the nature of safety and regulatory requirements.
24. A full regulatory impact assessment has been published.
25. The commencement clause provides for all the clauses to come into effect two months after the day on which the Act is passed.
EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
26. Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement about compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). The statement has to be made before second reading. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills has made the following statement:
In my view the provisions of the School Transport Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.
27. In this context Article 2 of the first Protocol to the European Convention provides that no person shall be denied the right to education. Article 2 goes on to provide that "in exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions". However in the Government's view this does not mean that there is any positive obligation to subsidise a particular form of education in order to respect a parent's religious or philosophical convictions. Consequently this Article does not of itself create any obligation to make arrangements for school transport or for free school transport to assist or enable parents to send their children to schools of their choice. Moreover it will be for individual LEAs as public authorities within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that the schemes they make are compatible with Convention Rights and in particular to avoid discrimination contrary to Article 14 of the Convention.
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