Plans to scrap transport for children with special needs between home and school have been approved by Hampshire County Council.
The Conservative-run council currently picks up 12,000 youngsters from their homes and takes them to school but says it would save £986,000 by using dedicated pick-up and drop-off points allowing multiple children to be taken on single journeys in one vehicle.
Of the 12,000 children supported by the home-to-school transport scheme, a quarter have special educational needs and disabilities.
The move has been heavily criticised by The Disability Union, which believes these changes have not been made with the children in mind.
Kirsty Smillie, the charity’s strategic development officer, said: ‘Hampshire County Council is not listening to schools and parents regarding the needs of the children.
‘Young people with autism, OCD, anxiety, or learning disabilities may have an especially hard time adjusting to a new route and new people. With the county council not informing the parents of any developments, this leaves them with no time to prepare their children.
‘Some parents are already having to walk with their children for a mile to the allocated bus stop. This can be challenging especially for children with special educational needs.
‘Vulnerable children should be a priority but instead are always the first to suffer from mismanagement of funds and this must be addressed. ‘
No information has been given to parents about the start of the new school year in September, she added.
A public consultation on the changes was held between January and March this year, with 945 responses. Parents who submitted a response were strongly opposed to the use of drop-off points and shared transport.
At the children and young people select committee meeting in Winchester earlier today, assistant director Suzanne Smith said the changes will not be implemented unilaterally.
Instead, the county council it will look at whether individual children will be ‘capable’ of sharing transport with others, vowing to examine each child on a case-by-case basis.
‘I feel confident the capacity is there,’ she said. But at a decision day meeting this afternoon, executive lead member for children’s services Councillor Roz Chadd approved the plans.
She said: ‘I thank everyone for their comments – there was a really good debate at the select committee this morning and I have listened to everyone.
‘I want our home-to-school transport to be inclusive, to support childrens’ transition but also to be sustainable, so we can deliver this for all the children who need it.
‘Part of that sustainability is trying to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
‘The fact that it’s going to be on a case-by-case basis means I am in full support of the recommendations. We will work with parents and schools over the next two to three years so that the children who are able to meet at a collective point can do so, ensuring our service for the future.’