Some of the children in care – “Looked After Children” – are disabled. Others have highly “challenging” behaviour and are so disruptive they are taken out of regular schools and placed in Pupil Referral Units. These are children who as well as being in care also have a “Statement of Educational Needs”. Each case will be different but it will often be necessary for special passenger transport arrangements for SEN children to be taken to schools – sometimes involving escorts as well as taxi drivers.

What is much harder to justify is the widespread arrangement where children in care are taken to and from school by taxi – even though they are at mainstream schools and are not disabled.

This is an item of spending which is not merely wasteful but harmful. For children in care having a taxi to pick them up from school marks them out as different. It creates a stigma. Their schoolmates ask why a taxi picks them up from school.

Primary school children – these days at least – are generally felt to need someone to pick them up and drop them off to school. But for those children in care it is far better for foster carers to do this – in the way that parents do. The journey home from school is a chance for children to tell their parents – or foster carers – about their day, to take pride in achievements, and to seek comfort and advice over anxieties. There is a different relationship with an escort of taxi driver that they might have never met met before.

Sometimes there will be difficulties where a child is at school far away from their home with their foster carer – but that is just another reason why councils should seek to avoid such unsuitable placements.

This is a significant spending item – as the figures below which I obtained via FOI requests show.

Spending on taxis to provide school transport for children in care – for non-disabled children going to mainstream schools

Barking and Dagenham – £50,192

Bath and North East Somerset Council – £59,000

Bexley – Nil

Blackpool – £15,510.17

Bournemouth – Nil

Buckinghamshire – £19,904

Bury –  £7,520.00.

Bristol – £4,920.68

Camden – £23,057.40

Central Bedfordshire – £139,931.64

Cheshire West and Cheshire – £229,397

Cornwall – £308,000

Derbyshire – £184,456

Devon – £474,291

Dudley – £376,163

East Sussex – £91,322

Enfield – £280,943

Gloucestershire –  £46,330.78

Haringey –  £32,331.62

Hammersmith and Fulham – Nil

Havering – £4,944.10

Hertfordshire – £416,839

Kensington and Chelsea – Nil

Kirklees – £484,330

Lancashire – £3,000

Luton – £90,873.41

Merton – Nil

Middlesbrough – £56,388

Milton Keynes – £1,152

Northumberland – £72,596

Nottinghamshire – £488,321.23

Oldham – £14,006.80

Peterborough – £352,330

Plymouth – £21,531.24

Reading – Nil

Rotherham – £372,542.84

Shropshire –  £199,994.

Slough – Nil

South Tyneside- , £183,350

Staffordshire – £280,346

Sutton – £43,177

Surrey – £346,300

Swindon – £116,454.92

Torbay – £8,390

Tower Hamlets – £55,910

Waltham Forest – Nil

Wandsworth – Nil

Warwickshire –  £877,323

Westminster- £503.94

Wigan – Nil

Wiltshire – £199,891

Windsor and Maidenhead – £21,534.21

Wirral – £10,086.00

Worcestershire –  £257,452

York – £104,796

These are figures from just 55 of the 151 “upper tier” authorities – those with Children’s Services Departments. The total comes to £7.4 million. Some of those listed above do not include the cost of escorts – so the true figure will be higher. Perhaps the total spending on this for all 151 councils would be over £20 million.

Some councils (such as my own) do not provide transport for non-SEN children in care.

Many councils said they had no record of how much they spent on taxis taking able-bodied children in care to and from mainstream schools. Where they had a total figure for school transport costs for children in care it was often very considerable. Birmingham’s, for example, was over half a million pounds. Leicester’s was £351,787. The annual bill for Leeds is £1.5 million.

They should find out. They should ask children in care whether what they think of being collected by taxis – the ones I spoke to found it humiliating and I was pleased that after I discussed the matter with a social worker the arrangement was reviewed.

It’s tough enough children in care to try and fit in. We should not be making it worse – at enormous cost to the taxpayer.

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