School Travel - Transport Committee Contents


44. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 placed a duty on local authorities to promote the use of sustainable modes of travel and to develop a strategy to improve infrastructure supporting sustainable travel. Despite this, the attitude of the Government to sustainable school travel is unclear. The Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Transport have provided funding for the Travelling to School initiative and the DfT provides funding for Cycling England. However, education policies such as parental choice and 14-19 Diplomas seem to accept, if not encourage, significant amounts of travel as part of a pupil's education. The Government should clearly state to what extent they are prepared to persuade or compel schools, students and parents to use sustainable, active travel and whether they are willing to use an element of compulsion.

Centralised harmonisation v. local adaptation

45. Some witnesses expressed concern that the school transport provision and public transport provision could vary significantly between areas. Mark Hudson of the 14-19 Access to Learning Group said:

In assessing pupils' travel needs "progress has varied from authority to authority" as have the results.[42]

46. The 14-19 Access to Learning Group, along with the Association of School and College Leaders supported a more centralised approach. Referring to their own 2007 research they said that "there is a postcode lottery on support for young people and transport. We feel that a national scheme would be appropriate but that model needs to suit both urban and rural learners".[43] However, other witnesses were much less enthusiastic about national schemes and wanted decision-making to happen at a local level. The Merseyside Local Transport Plan Partnership argued that setting targets for modal shift at a local as opposed to a national level was appropriate due to the complexity of the issues and the different situations in rural and metropolitan areas.[44]

47. We accept that, in most cases, Local Authorities are best placed to make decisions about local transport needs. However, we are concerned that the "postcode lottery" young people face in respect of transport provision could be affecting their educational opportunities and achievements. In part it may be that significant local variations are a result of the lack of clarity over school travel policy on the part of the Government.

Joined-up working

48. There are a number of areas related to school travel where the work of several Government departments overlap. For example, schemes to persuade children to walk to school involve health and education as well as transport. We received evidence suggesting that there is currently a lack of coordination between these areas. The National Association of Head Teachers acknowledge that:

49. When asked what could be done to improve the transport network for young people Viv McKee of the National Youth Agency emphasised this point, arguing that:

    the changes in expectations of the offer to young people both in terms of the 14 to 19 agenda and Aiming High which expect young people to be able to access services at a number of points at a number of times. Provision is not strategically planned and delivered to make this happen.[46]

14-19 diplomas were highlighted as an example of education policy which has significant transport implications but where there has been only limited coordination and planning between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Transport.

50. However, there was some recognition that Government departments were trying to improve the way they work together on cross-sector policy and initiatives. Tony Armstrong of Living Streets told us that "There are increasing signs of good practice in terms of the focus of the DCSF and DH jointly running the obesity strategy and working closely with DfT on that. There are very promising signs."[47] Councillor Lawrence of the Local Government Association also suggested that proposed legislation to strengthen Children's Trusts could help to promote more coordinated approaches to school travel if the duty to co-operate was strengthened."[48]

51. The Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department of Health and the Department for Transport must take a more pro-active, bolder approach in promoting joint working. It is vital to a successful school travel strategy that departments are able to work effectively with each other. Government departments should ensure effective coordination between transport, education and health interests when it comes to cross-sector work and policy.

52. We heard that co-ordination at a local level could also be improved. Living Streets, claimed that the current way of working allowed for too much duplication and "buck passing" between school travel and health authorities,[49] although they were aware that "one positive aspect of the current working practices is that School Travel Planners have become an active part of the healthy and sustainable schools programme."[50] We heard that links between education and health authorities at a local level were also being developed through work on the Healthy Schools initiative.[51]

53. The Association of Transport Coordinating Officers also told us that there is progress in encouraging joint working. They said:

    It is increasingly common for public and education transport to be arranged within local authorities by an Integrated Transport Unit, in order to achieve efficiencies in provision and a consistent approach to standards and policies. The Local Transport Plan process has also encouraged the closer integration of education transport policies with overall transport policies, and the Education & Inspections Act requirement for school travel strategies has also encouraged further moves in this direction.[52]

Les Warneford of Stagecoach, one of the UK's largest bus operators, also supported the use of Integrated Transport Units, arguing that integrated units worked well in most areas, noting that bus operators had good collaboration with such units.[53] Local Authorities without Integrated Transport Units need to seriously consider whether such an arrangement might be beneficial in their area to bring together different aspects of Local Authority transport planning.

54. One of the problems with encouraging more joined-up working is establishing what the cross-sector benefits are and how cross-sector initiatives should be funded. Councillor Lawrence of the Local Government Association told us that differences in funding structures between health, education and transport authorities could make it difficult to identify funding that could be used for joint schemes. He told us that, for example, in Primary Care Trusts, it could be difficult to identify money spent on children and young people specifically, while in education authorities it was often possible to break spending down by age cohort. There were also differences between local government and health authorities in terms of whether money could be carried forward from one year to the next.[54]

55. We recognise that differences in funding arrangements can make joint work between transport, health and education difficult. However, we urge Local Authorities operating within multi-agency agreements to consider new ways of funding and running initiatives to integrate the transport, health and education objectives for school travel. The Government should support and promote innovative work in this area. Success requires co-ordination both nationally and locally.

Choice and planning

56. The school admissions process offers an element of choice to parents and students, allowing them to select appropriate provision and apply to their choice of school, which is not necessarily the closest. A 2006 paper from the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance noted that:

Underlying the arguments of supporters of the extension of choice in education is the assumption that this will improve educational attainment.

57. However, it can be more difficult to promote sustainable modes of travel when pupils are not attending a local school. TravelWatch North West claims that:

    It is […] often difficult for operators to serve schools where uncoordinated planning of housing and educational "re-organisations" have resulted in relocations or concentrations of sites in greenfield or dispersed locations. This is inevitable as long as parental choice, the raison d'être of the Act, replaces zoning.[56]

The Association of Train Operating Companies concluded that:

    There also remains a fundamental tension at national level between transport policy and accessibility planning on the one hand, which encourage a reduction in the need to travel and the promotion of sustainable modes such as walking, cycling and public transport; and on the other hand policies on education and health which promote choice, flexibility and specialisation, which lead directly to longer journeys and more dispersed patterns of travel that can not be effectively catered for by sustainable modes.[57]

58. Some of the evidence we heard suggested that choice of school should be limited. Paul Osbourne of Sustrans told us that there should perhaps be "some limited choice of school near to where people live, but ultimately how are we going to address sustainability unless schools do not generate huge travel demand."[58] However, other witnesses focused their comments on the need to make travel one of the factors that parents considered when choosing a school. Living Street suggest that "it is essential to change the current thinking whereby parents consider simply which school is "best" for their child without giving any thought to how the daily journey is to be achieved".[59] Figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families for 2008 secondary school entrants show that, although there are regional variations, on average in England 82 per cent of families received a place at their first choice school and 94 per cent received a place at one of their top three choices.[60]

59. Allowing students and parents to access appropriate education and training is important if young people are to achieve their full potential. However, we recognise that longer journeys to and from school can reduce the likelihood of pupils using sustainable modes of transport. Planning should take into account the need for communities to have access to local education facilities and the need for schools and colleges to be accessible by foot, bike and public transport. We urge the Government to work with local authorities to ensure that information about travel and the benefits of sustainable travel are included in the information provided to parents and young people when choosing schools. There is a tension between promoting choice of school and promoting sustainable school travel. The Government has, to date, done little to address the tension between choice and sustainability when it comes to schools. The Government must be more open about these tensions and address them explicitly in future policy making.

41   Q 282 [Mr Hudson] Back

42   Q 331 [Mr Gwenlan] Back

43   Q 270 [Mr Hudson} Back

44   Q 27 Back

45   Ev 126 [National Association of Head Teachers] Back

46   Q 302 Back

47   Q 250 [ Mr Armstrong] Back

48   Q 391 Back

49   Ev 125 [Living Streets] Back

50   Ev 124 Back

51   Ev 93  Back

52   Ev 121 Back

53   Q 210 Back

54   Q 390 Back

55   Stephen Gibbons, Stephen Machin and Olmo Silva "The educational impact of parental choice and school competition", CentrePiece, vol 11, issue 3 (2006), pp 6-9 Back

56   Ev 105 Back

57   Ev 122 [Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers] Back

58   Q 251 Back

59   Ev 124 Back

60   Department for Children, Schools and Families, Local Authority level data on secondary school places and offers received by parents on National Offer Day 2008, 11 March 2008 Back

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