Antiquated home-school transport system under threat of collapse, research suggests

Martin Addison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

England’s home-school transport system is under threat of collapse because the foundations on which it is based haven’t kept up with changes in schooling, according to new research by the University of Plymouth.

In recent years, catchment areas have been dismantled to offer parents more choice when it comes to their child’s schooling.

But subsidised home-school transport networks have not kept pace, placing a considerable strain on local authority budgets across England, particularly in rural areas.

With school choice becoming intrinsically linked to parents’ ability to fund or provide transport, the study suggests there is potential for further increase of social segregation and exclusion.

The research was conducted by Lecturer in Education Studies Dr Cath Gristy and Research fellow Rebecca Johnson, and is published in the British Journal of Educational Studies.

It centres on the Education Act of 1944, a landmark piece of legislation which dictated that local authorities are legally required to provide transport for children aged five to 16 to get to their nearest school if they live more than three miles away.

Dr Gristy said:

“It began as a piece of social justice legislation, but the acts governing home-school transport no longer work in practice. With schools now independent of local authority control, traditional home-school transport networks are no longer fit for purpose, leading to increased car traffic on the roads. The home-school transport budgets place a huge strain on local authorities at a time when they are facing massive cuts. But it is also putting many families at a distinct disadvantage as their ability to afford or provide transport is an overwhelming factor in the school decision-making process.”

The study saw academics review existing research relating to several aspects of the home-school transport system, including planning, health and safety, well-being and finance.

It showed that while there have been calls to review home-school transport legislation and practices, no significant changes have been made meaning outdated policies are still governing the way the system functions today.

This is in part, the research suggests, because responsibility lies across three government departments (the Department for Education, Department for Transport, and the Department for Communities and Local Government).

Overall, the study found there were large gaps in previous academic research, with calls to examine the wider system so that future policy and practice can be informed by published research.

Dr Gristy added:

“Children’s daily commute, their journey between home and school, has a huge impact on their lives. School choice influences commuting patterns but our research shows there is little research on the role home-school transport plays in school choice and the resulting commutes. At a time when funding cuts are having an impact across society developing understanding of this crucial part of children’s lives is more important than ever, to inform the development of socially just and sustainable home-school systems.”

The full study – Home-to-school transport in contemporary schooling contexts: An irony in motion by Cath Gristy and Rebecca Johnson – is published in the British Journal of Educational Studies, doi: 10.1080/00071005.2017.1346229.

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