School transport provision: An overview

Written by: Nabil Dance | Published:
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What does the law expect of schools and local authorities in providing transport to pupils? How can schools challenge unsatisfactory arrangements? Nabil Dance tackles the legal requirements and practical elements that schools should be aware of

Local authority transport

Local authority-provided home-to-school transport falls below standard in incidents across the country every year, as any trawl of local media will reveal.

My experience of advising schools proves that schools and parents can successfully challenge local authority travel arrangements for the better. Likewise, we can also successfully change the contents of unlawful school transport policies.

There are many different factors involved in deciding whether primary school pupils are entitled to free home-to-school local authority transport, including distance, pupil age, religion, entitlement to Working Tax Credits, the safety of the proposed travel route for the pupil, the type of school, and so on.

The key question is whether the transport arrangements are suitable by law. The primary statutory guidance from the Department for Education is the Home-to-school travel and transport guidance (DfE, 2014).

With my emphasis, it states:

“As a general guide, transport arrangements should not require a child to make several changes on public transport resulting in an unreasonably long journey time. Best practice suggests the maximum each way length of journey for a child of primary school age to be 45 minutes. For children with SEN and/or disabilities, journeys may be more complex and a shorter journey time, although desirable, may not always be possible.”

“Consideration should also be given to the walking distance required in order to access public transport. The maximum distances will depend on a range of circumstances, including the age of the child, their individual needs and the nature of the routes they are expected to walk to the pick-up or set-down points, and should try to be combined with the transport time when considering the overall duration of a journey. With regards to pick-up points, local authorities may at their discretion use appropriate pick-up points when making travel arrangements. For arrangements to be suitable, they must also be safe and reasonably stress free, to enable the child to arrive at school ready for a day of study.”

The law does not clearly define suitability of travel arrangements, but the examples provided by the DfE above are certainly a good start. While there is a degree of built-in flexibility, it nonetheless provides a list of useful factors in assessing suitability from a legal perspective.

If you are ever concerned about the standards of local authority provision when it comes to home-to-school transport do keep this guidance in mind. It serves as the most significant information in this context and has not been amended since late 2016. I do not anticipate it being replaced soon.

Other factors such as lateness of arrival at school can also be relevant due to, for instance, late pick-up times. In my experience of supporting schools and parents, this can be highly detrimental, particularly for pupils with SEN and medical needs. Ensure that this detrimental impact is adequately recorded and analysed. Likewise for the impact on school staff and resources.

If you have not already done so, it is worth reviewing the school transport policies of any local authorities which provide arrangements to your pupil cohort so that you understand the process.

This will also help you to identify any important deficiencies within the policies that may need to be challenged.

While advising schools, I have encountered numerous unlawful policies, which disregarded national guidelines, or which added strange conditions or limitations to travel arrangements.

If you haven't already done so, I would recommend strengthening your administrative systems to incorporate local authority arranged school transport, such as recording the pick-up and arrival times for buses, taxis, and such. This can help particularly in actual or potential disputes with local authorities. I was delighted to receive this kind of data when working with my governing body clients.

If you or your parents are dissatisfied with school transport provision, then parents can appeal under the relevant local authority school transport policy. While schools cannot lodge a formal appeal in the same manner, I have supported schools in liaising with local authorities through mounting an informal challenge.

School-provided transport

As to transport provided by schools, this is addressed in law by way of piecemeal rules from general health and safety law, an overall duty of care, and certain government guidance.

There is no definitive law addressing the suitability of school-provided transport. The most crucial factor is to have modern, consistent, detailed, and practical procedures and policies in place with safety in mind. In my experience primary schools thrive in this area as heads continue to build on decades of knowledge and practice and apply it rigorously.

That being said, remember to pay close attention to pupils with certain needs, and exceptional circumstances, as this is where standards can fall short – and numerous guidelines and laws can be broken as a result.

Inadequate support for disabled pupils resulting in breaking equality legislation would serve as a reasonable example of how a school provided transport while breaking other laws in the process.

School procedures and policies should adequately address transport for routine visits, such as simple trips, so long as the extra effort is taken for pupils with exceptional circumstances.

However, for trips that require further planning and assessment, your educational visits coordinator should consider planning, organising, and reviewing procedures with risk assessments, your safeguarding policy, and any other relevant school policies in mind. The adequacy of transport, particularly supervision and safety of pupils, must be prioritised for these more uncommon journeys.

Your educational visits coordinator should ensure that any taxi and private hire vehicle services comply with law that is set out by the Department for Transport in the Statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standard guidelines (DfT, 2020.) While it is not directed at schools, service providers must still meet the standards laid out.

The non-statutory DfE guidelines Health and safety on educational visits (DfE, 2018) also provide very useful recommendations, such as how to tackle trips abroad where the standard of travel arrangements naturally becomes trickier to manage.

And the joint DfE and DfT non-statutory guidelines Driving school minibuses advice: Schools and local authorities (DfE & DfT, 2013) are helpful in understanding, for instance, licensing requirements for minibuses.

Your educational visits coordinator should be encouraged to seek governor approval, or the equivalent, for the more complex travel arrangements. For instance, arrangements for a pupil with complex medical needs taking a long-distance trip must evidently be considered very carefully.

A team effort is arguably crucial, particularly if you run a special school or a mainstream provision with a high number of pupils with SEN, medical needs, or English as an additional language.

Finally, irrespective of whether your school has a formal connection to your local authority, strive towards meeting any transport-related standards they set and adhering to any travel warnings they provide, wherever possible.


To summarise this short article, my main concerns with school-provided transport would be safety, supervision, and the adequacy of arrangements for pupils with exceptional circumstances.

Meanwhile, do not hesitate to challenge local authority home-to-school transport policies, or insufficient travel arrangements – but I would encourage seeking specialist legal support as there tends to be initial resistance regardless of the origin of a complaint.

My most memorable case involved being engaged to challenge a set of quite terrible travel arrangements which had a profound impact on an entire cohort of special school pupils. The impact was so devastating to the school as a whole that the governors had stepped in to challenge the local authority.

As with many issues in education law, planning, solid procedures, sound team-work, meeting the requirements of national government guidelines, and consulting specialist bodies, greatly help schools in taking the path towards legal compliance.

I would encourage schools to continue seeking specialist information from the appropriate organisations, absorbing it, and putting it into practice. I have listed useful resources below, such as the website of the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel which should help strengthen any transport that your school provides.

  • Nabil Dance is an education lawyer who advises parents and schools in England and Wales. He is a former Independent Appeal Panel Member for school admission appeals. You can contact him via The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice and are provided for informational purposes only. Read his previous articles for Headteacher Update via

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