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Lord Filkin: We know that one of the problems with our processes is that it is not always transparent to spot what is lurking behind the amendment from the literal words of the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was, I think, sorrowful that we could not have the debate that she wanted on her amendment as a consequence.
At one level, the answer to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, at its simplest, is that we will never know if it is possible, within the current Bill and the reality of constraints, to do better with the amount of money now available, unless we allow local authorities to see if they can innovate by a different form of subsidy than one simply based on geographical distance. Of course, that is at the heart of why a piloting approach is appropriate.
Perhaps I may give the noble Baroness the literal responses to her amendment, which, in part, touch on what she was seeking. From the National Travel Survey, we know that 83 per cent of pupils walk one mile or less to school, 45 per cent walk one to two miles and only 16 per cent walk two to three miles to school. Many children who live between one and three miles from school travel to school by bus, family car or taxi, which is expensive for their parents, particularly when there are several children in the family.
However, the amendment proposes that scheme authorities should be required to provide transport for pupils who live more than one mile from their nearest school. That would be unnecessary, unworkable and prohibitively expensiveI shall give some illustration of that. It is unnecessary because there are already a substantial number of children, particularly of secondary school age, who walk or cycle more than a mile to school. Thanks heaven for thatthe problem would be even worse if they did not.
The proposal is unworkable because it would sharply increase the number of pupils travelling to school by bus. Authorities would not be obliged to provide free transport, but if they charged free market fares, pupils might not use them. Above all, the bus network does not have sufficient capacity in the morning and evening peaks, just in terms of sheer supply. It would take a considerable time to build bus capacity.
The killer issue, of course, is cost. The current arrangements are largely based on the two and three-mile statutory distances. It is likely that around £700 million will be spent on home-to-school transport in England during the current financial year and about £80 million in Wales. If we extended that to those who live more than one mile from school, our rough estimate is that it would require between £1.2 billion
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and £2 billion extra for all authorities. If someone has a free cheque to give for that, I am that sure local authorities will be pleased to receive it.
However, there has to be a sensible scheme to see what can be done within the realities of finances, rather than thinking that limitless amounts of someone else's money can be thrown at it. That is not necessarily the only way to make improvements. By that, I do not imply that sometimes increased investment is not necessary, but we have to test it within those parameters. I hope that that has been helpful.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for his reply. As I said, this was a probing amendment to raise the issue. I have some sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said in answer to the Minister's reply to her previous amendment. However, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(1) A scheme authority or school can withdraw the entitlement to school transport where a child's behaviour puts at risk the safety of other pupils using the same mode of transport.
(2) The scheme shall have regard to the need to be consistent with the scheme authority's transport policy statement prepared under section 509AA of the Education Act 1999 (c. 56).
(3) A scheme authority exercising its right under sub-paragraph (1) will be deemed to have satisfied its obligations under section 444(4)(b)(i) of the Education Act 1996."
The noble Baroness said: Poor pupil behaviour on buses is cited by parents as a major concern. Not only can it endanger the safety of passengers as drivers are distracted or equipment vandalised, but it also makes for an unpleasant experience for other pupils travelling on the bus. There is some confusion over exactly who is responsible for ensuring good pupil behaviour on school buses.
It would be helpful if the Government issued guidance to LEAs setting out the extent of the responsibilities and powers in relation to pupil behaviour on buses. The provision of CCTV or escorts on school buses may be one way in which to improve behaviour. Escorts could be provided by schools or the bus operator but they would need to have adequate training and a clear remit in terms of power.
If we want more parents to send their children on the school bus, we need to ensure that the behaviour of the children using the buses is of a high standard. In their response to the education committee's report, the Government said that if a child is excluded from a school bus, the LEA has to pay the cost of transporting that child to school. Therefore, there is a financial disincentive to the LEA excluding a child from the school bus. It would have to pay for a taxi or some other means of transport to get to school the child who is misbehaving on a school bus.
There is no incentive for the LEA to exclude children who are misbehaving and putting at risk other pupils on the bus or damaging equipment on it. It is
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time that we took a much firmer line on the issue. It should not be the LEA that is left to pick up the cost of sending children to school in a taxi. We should say that the parents of such children should pay the cost of getting them to school and that they should take responsibility for ensuring that their children get to school. I beg to move.
Lord Triesman: The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raised a very interesting point. At the risk of making her argument still stronger, which is not my job of course, it could be an incentive for an extremely disruptive pupil to think, "If I carry on doing this, I can travel by taxi", which would hardly be anyone's intention. But this is quite a complex issue and I want to go through it in detail because obviously we must get it right.
The first sub-paragraph of Amendment No. 11 seeks to introduce a power for the LEAs to withdraw entitlement to school transport in scheme areas where the behaviour of a pupil puts at risk the safety of other pupils using the same transport. The amendment would not extend that power to LEAs which were not scheme authorities, and that might be a gap in the amendment. Nor would the amendment address a situation where a pupil's transport to school was not provided by the LEAfor example, where a pupil consistently behaved badly while travelling on a train or a public bus. That is another possible gap.
Therefore, although the amendment seeks to ensure the safety of other pupils, it is important to remember that pupils travel on transport used by members of the public, who, as I am sure Members of the Committee will agree, should be protected. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that poor behaviour by pupils on school transport is an extremely serious issue to which we must get the right solution. The consequences of poor behaviour can be very wide-ranging.
The DfES and DfT issued a joint document, Travelling to School: an action plan, which asks that each school should promote positive behaviour by pupils on their journey to and from school through rewarding positive behaviour and using sanctions to address poor behaviour. Guidance for schools on behaviour on school transport is contained in key stage 3 behaviour and attendance materials, so it is addressed in schools and in the curriculum. Schools recognise that positive behaviour on the journey can enhance the school's reputation. It also supports good behaviour in the school. We expect schools to work with the police, bus operators and the local community to promote positive behaviour.
Similarly, we expect LEAs and transport authorities to tackle anti-social behaviour through driver training and to work with schools on an agreed approach to make pupils aware of the dangers of poor behaviour. The action plan cites the work done by Essex County CouncilI am very pleased to have the opportunity to say thatwhich is obviously quite exemplary. It found that a behaviour liaison officer and escortstogether with driver trainingreduced vandalism and poor behaviour, and significant changes were achieved.
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A number of authorities in Wales are also piloting the use of CCTV on routes where there have been some behaviour problems. Those measures are combined with a clear policy of sanctions for disruptive behaviour, including bans of varying periods from the school bus. The results so far are very encouraging.
Poor behaviour on buses is an issue that the LEAs have also raised. We are aware of cases where children who are eligible for free school transport have misbehaved consistently while travelling to or from school and that some authorities have adopted a policy of withdrawing transport, either for a temporary period or, in the most serious and persistent cases, permanently, which, in a way, is what we were being appealed to consider in relation to this amendment.
The intention is that such sanctions would be a deterrent and it is hoped that they would be used only rarely if they had to be invoked. However, it is important to signal to pupils and parents that behaviour which endangers other pupilsor the driver or other passengerswill not be tolerated. That is where there is a degree of confusion surrounding what can and cannot be done in terms of sanctions for poor behaviour on the school bus. Obviously, the intention of sub-paragraph (3) in the amendment is to find a way of assisting with that.
Part of the confusion lies with the interplay between the provision of school transport and the law surrounding attendance at school. Section 444(4) of the 1996 Act describes the circumstances in which a parent of a pupil of compulsory school age would have a defence to the charge of failing to secure the child's regular attendance at school. Effectively, a parent of a child attending their nearest suitable school and living outside the statutory walking distance would have a defence against a charge for non-attendance if suitable transport arrangements have not been provided.
However, the offence under Section 444(1) or (1A) is having a child who fails to attend school regularly. So if a child was banned from the school bus for a day, or perhaps a week even, the LEA would not be able to prosecute for non-attendance under Section 444. That means that an LEA could withdraw access to transport temporarily without having to consider whether alternative transport should be provided. It does not have to do that. That would not, of course, remove the parent's obligation to get the pupil to school by other means. That remains an obligation.
As to the legal position where the withdrawal of transport would result in the child failing to attend school regularly, our legal advice is that there may be circumstances where there is no legal obligation on the LEA to provide alternative transport, which goes to the heart of what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, was asking us to consider. The Act means that the LEA has to make suitable transport arrangements if it wants to retain the ability to prosecute parents for the failure of a child to attend regularly. But that is not the same as saying that they are under a legal obligation to provide the transport.
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In the circumstances that we are considering, the LEA would not be saying that transport was unnecessary and should not be provided; it would be saying that transport is necessary and that suitable transport has been provided but that the child's behaviour is such that the child cannot take advantage of it. That is a wholly different legal proposition. Furthermore, the DfES guidance on exclusion from school states that:
I believe that most people would agree that poor behaviour on transport is an issue that needs addressing through a variety of means: training for drivers, escorts, CCTV, as well as awarding good behaviour on transport and giving appropriate sanctions for poor behaviour. It is clear that the LEAs can already withdraw pupils from school buses on a temporary basis or, in cases of extremely bad behaviour, permanently. In either case, it would be the pupil's behaviour that made it impossible for the pupil to travel on the transport provided. That is the key in answering the points that have been, quite correctly, put to us.
Very briefly, the obligations in relation to post-16 transport are obviously important here and they are covered in passing. I do not intend to make the whole speech that has been provided for me, but there is a duty on LEAs to plan and publish annual transport policy statements locally for pupils over the age of 16. It is our intention that those policy statements and programmes should not encourage the use of cars compared with the use of other forms of transport or walking or bicycling. We would certainly be very keen to ensure that pupils of sixth-form age or those not attending school but still in education are covered by good transport policies, which all pull in the same direction as the legislation in general. That is probably the neatest way of summarising the intentions of the legislation, which I believe are covered by the legislation. In that light, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
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