Complaints have rocketed about councils’ cuts to school transport, the Local Government Ombudsman has said.
It said the situation was concerning enough for it to issue a report called All on Board which details how councils should design policies that are fair and proof against challenges.
There were 261 complaints to the ombudsman about school transport in 2015-16, up from 160 the previous year.
The report said the main causes were unfair or opaque changes to policies, misapplied procedures for considering applications and appeals, and treatment of children not of compulsory school age with special educational needs.
It said councils were “increasingly changing their school transport policies to bring them in line with their minimum duties under the law”, and would generally restrict provision to children attending their nearest school.
Ombudsman Michael King said: “When looking at school transport awards councils must ensure decisions are made fairly, legally and transparently.
“Failing to do this can cause confusion, financial hardship and have a significant impact on some of the most vulnerable families, particularly those who have children with special educational needs.”
Mr King said he understood councils had stretched finances but parents and carers must be kept properly informed and given clear reasons for decisions.
Richard Watts (Lab), chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Local authorities are working hard to ensure suitable travel arrangements are made for children who could not reasonably be expected to walk or would otherwise find it difficult to attend school because of distance, mobility, special educational needs or the routes they have to take.
“However, this is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of such sustained financial challenges.”
The ombudsman’s concerns came only weeks after the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) called for an end to the duty on councils to pay for buses for pupils who live beyond walking distance of their school.