Tag Archives: school transport

Delivering legal rights through practical problem-solving

In this article we take a look at our Legal Entitlements and Problem-Solving (LEaP) Project – why we started it, what we do, what we’ve achieved so far and the longer term impact of our work.

Why we started the Project

Disabled children and their families sometimes need extra support in order to have a normal everyday life – for example, help with bathing or eating, moving around or communicating. Local councils and the NHS have legal duties to meet these needs by providing support, such as someone to help with personal care at home, specialist equipment, adaptations, short breaks or therapy services. However, we know from our work with families that, in practice, parents often struggle to get the right support for their children and a lack of support can harm the health and well-being of the whole family.

The LEaP Project aims to find out why families struggle to get the help that they’re legally entitled to and what can be done to change things. We want to learn more about the problems families face, so that we can work out ways of overcoming them and helping families to get the support they need. The Project is led by Luke Clements, Professor of Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds.

What we do

We invite families to tell us about the problems they face in getting the support they need. With expert support from the team at the University, we provide legal information and advice to help families overcome those difficulties. We help families to understand what their legal rights are and what they can do if they fail to get the support they need. We also use the information we get from individual cases to write template letters, factsheets and guides, which can help other families in similar situations.

When we see from our casework that several families are having similar problems, we ask our student volunteers at Leeds to study this problem in more detail (often by doing a survey) and then produce a report with ideas about how policy and practice can be changed to avoid these problems in the future.  Past projects have looked at short breaks, school transport and disabled facilities grants.

Then we use the knowledge gained from our advice casework and student-led projects to improve our understanding of why these legal problems occur and to work out practical ways of overcoming them. We want to find out which problem-solving techniques help families to cope better with the challenges they face and how councils and the NHS can change the way they work.

What we’ve achieved so far

(1)  We’ve attracted funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and from Leeds University, which has enabled us to fund a PhD student, develop our Problem-Solving Toolkit (see below) and fund a research assistant post at the University.

(2)  In 2013 and 2014, we published compilations of our advice letters (the ‘Digests of Opinions’) to help other families in similar situations.

(3)  In 2016, we published a report about ‘short breaks statements’ (these statements are published by councils in England and explain how families can get breaks from their caring responsibilities). The report considered how accessible and accurate these statements were.

(4)  We published a guide for families in 2016 called the “Accessing Public Services Toolkit”. The Toolkit describes some of the common problems families face in dealing with councils and the NHS and suggests ways of solving those problems. A second edition was published in 2017, along with a separate version for families in Scotland. We’ve developed an ongoing programme of workshops across the U.K. to share the Toolkit with parent groups.

(5)  In 2017, the student volunteers at Leeds interviewed a small number of families who had applied for a disabled facilities grant to pay for home adaptations. We published a report called “Disabled Children and the Cost Effectiveness of Home Adaptations and Disabled Facilities Grants”, which considered the benefits of investing in these adaptations, including cost savings and improvements in families’ well-being. The report was launched at a conference at the University of Leeds on 12 July 2017 and resulted in meetings with senior members of Leeds City Council, the NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group Partnership and Foundations (the national body for Home Improvement Agencies), along with an article in the Guardian newspaper.

(6)  On 12 July 2017, the Project Team also launched a research report called “Local Authority Home to School Online Transport Policies: Accessibility and Accuracy”. This report explains how difficult it is for families to find accurate information about school transport on council websites and how some transport policies are more restrictive than they should be. As a result of the report, the team met with representatives from the Department of Education and worked with the charity, Contact, on their inquiry into school transport, including giving evidence to a select committee at Parliament. The Department for Education has decided to review its guidance for councils on school transport and it is planning to produce an accessible template for council websites, so that school transport information is more easily available to families. The team has been asked to share its research data with the Department to help with this work.

(7)  As a result of our casework, the Welsh Government has agreed to make its guidance on continence products more clear, so that families are no longer told that they can only have a maximum of 4 products a day.

(8)  We’ve helped families in England and Wales get the services they need – and persuaded councils to change their policies so that other families aren’t disadvantaged. We’ve built on our casework by publishing parent guides, for example on school transport for England and Wales, so that we can share the lessons we’ve learned with many more families. We’ve also published a series of template letters and factsheets for parents to use.

Longer term impact of our research

We know that our work with families helps them to develop the knowledge, confidence and skills they need to get support:

  • “Thank you for all your help and support. I don’t think I would have got anywhere without it.”
  • “We appreciate the continued support to empower us to go through this process.”
  • “I really do appreciate your support. I hadn’t realised there was so much info available to research.”

We will continue to support families and draw on their experiences to help us plan our research and publish resources which help other families in similar situations.

In 2018, our student volunteers will look at three research topics – how difficult it is to apply for a disabled facilities grant, how well the direct payments system works for disabled people and what social care charges disabled people have to pay for their care costs.

We also want to investigate how policies and practices within councils and the NHS can sometimes make it more difficult for families to get the support that they’re entitled to. We’re developing a detailed research plan, which will involve working with councils and the NHS to explore why these barriers exist and what can be done to remove them. We hope to get grant funding in 2018 for this important study, so that we can help to introduce changes within these organisations which will make it easier for more families to get the support they need.

You can find out more about our LEaP project here.

School Transport Report

The school of law team at the University of Leeds

The school of law team at the University of Leeds

Our student researchers at the School of Law, University of Leeds have published a report about the accuracy and accessibility of school transport information on local authority websites in England.

The students looked at 71 websites and identified serious failings in the information provided to families.  Almost 40% of the websites failed to clearly explain the legal rights of children with special educational needs or disabilities to school transport. The report also highlights how some school transport policies are more restrictive than they should be (see the examples on page 12/13).

You can read the full report here.

If you have a school transport problem, our Parent Guide explains what you can do to solve it.

School Transport – Dylan’s Story

School transport help

Public bodies in the UK have certain duties to provide health, social care and education support for disabled children. The Legal Entitlements Research Project is open to parents and carers of children aged 16 or under who have a neurodisability and who need help with a legal problem regarding access to health, social care or (to a more limited extent) education support services.

The project publishes an annual round-up of some of the cases the project has helped with, called a Digest of Opinions. One of those cases is that of 11 year old Dylan.

Dylan has severe learning difficulties, attention deficit disorder and autistic behaviours. He has a Statement of Special Educational Needs which identifies his challenging behaviour and entitles him to school transport and an escort.

Dylan’s parents were concerned that his escort was unaware of his needs and didn’t have the necessary skills to manage his behaviour. Dylan had not been introduced to his escort before his first trip to school that term. He became stressed and anxious when travelling to and from school and, on occasion, behaved violently, harming himself, the transport vehicle and other children.

The legal opinion given by the LERP details the legal duties of the authority to make sure that children are transported safely and with the minimum of stress. Drivers and escorts should be properly trained to cope with a child’s specific disability related needs and behaviour.

The full case Report can be found on page 40 of the Digest of Opinions.  All the young people’s names have been changed. The opinions are a statement of the law and policy at that time – it should be remembered that the law does change.

The Legal Entitlements Research Project is open to parents and carers of children aged 16 or under who have a neurodisability and who need help with a legal problem regarding access to health, social care or (to a more limited extent) education support services.

Read the Project Guidelines to find out more about the type of legal problems we can help with.

University of Leeds – Cerebra Legal Entitlements and Problem-Solving (LEaP) Project

Leeds logoPublic bodies have certain legal duties to provide health, social care and other services for disabled children, but families can find it difficult to access these services. With this in mind, Cerebra has awarded a research grant to the School of Law, University of Leeds to run a research programme called “Delivering legal rights: practical problem solving”. Professor Luke Clements leads the programme. The research programme started at Cardiff Law School in 2013 and moved to the University of Leeds in January 2016, where Professor Clements is the Cerebra Professor of Law and Social Justice.


The research aims to identify the common legal problems that prevent families getting access to services and to find ways of solving those problems. There are 4 main strands to the research:

  • Our Legal Entitlements and Problem-Solving (LEaP) Project, which provides legal advice to families who are having problems accessing health, social care or other services.
  • Our student researchers at the University of Leeds carry out research projects on some of the common themes arising from the LEaP casework.
  • The programme is underpinned by broader research that looks at “what works” in terms of solving the problems families face – the research team will analyse the effectiveness of different problem-solving techniques and use these results to refine the type of support we give to families.
  • The team is developing an innovative education and dissemination programme, which has included recruiting Family Research Ambassadors, publishing the Accessing Public Services Toolkit and running workshops.

Legal Research Team Makes a Difference

Oliver on the busOur new Legal Entitlements Research Project at Cardiff Law School is already making a difference to families.

Oliver is a 10 year old boy with Down’s syndrome and severe learning difficulties. Oliver’s parents were struggling to get transport for their son to his new school as they live in a rural area, 1.8 miles from the school. Their local authority applies a policy that all children who live less than 3 miles away from their school will not be eligible for funded travel by the local authority. But the route Oliver needed to take was unsafe. It involved walking through lanes which in some sections were single track with no passing places or lay-bys, a lack of street lighting and formal pavements, and the surface was in poor condition with many potholes.

Oliver and his parents had to cope with high volume traffic at peak times which would coincide with times when lighting was poor. Oliver’s disability also makes him prone to running off, becoming easily distracted, especially by potholes, and becoming distressed by loud noises. Oliver also has a brother who attends a different school in the opposite direction and taking both children at the same time would cause considerable distress to Oliver due to his past association with the school. Despite many attempts at trying to resolve the issue themselves with supporting letters from Oliver’s GP, social worker, paediatrician, his old school and his learning disability nurse, their applications and appeals continued to be turned down. This is when they decided to contact Cerebra’s Legal Entitlements Research Project.

The opinion of the team working on the Project was that the local authority had acted unreasonably in requiring Oliver to walk the prescribed route to and from school and had failed to consider the impact of his disability. The local authority had not acted in compliance with its obligations towards disabled children under the Equality Act 2010. The local authority had also applied a blanket policy and not considered the impact of Oliver’s disability on his ability to walk to school.

“We are delighted with the outcome of Oliver’s case and know that the provision of transport to and from school will make a huge difference to him and his family. The students worked extremely hard and are thrilled that their work has had such a positive impact. They were very touched that Oliver’s mum sent a photograph of Oliver on the school bus and this made their work feel even more personal” – Hannah Walsh, Cardiff Law School.

As a result of the letter written for the family by Professor Luke Clements and his team, the LEA has agreed to provide transport for Oliver to and from school. Oliver’s mum has shared a photograph with us of a happy little boy travelling to school safely.

With huge thanks to Cerebra and Cardiff Law School, Oliver has been going on the bus to and from school for just over a month now. Oliver loves going on the bus and this means he arrives at school much calmer and less stressed than he would if he walked. We were given excellent legal advice and access to a specialist in school transportation; this allowed us to present a much stronger case that resulted in success following our own previously unsuccessful application and appeals” – Oliver’s parents.

Public bodies in the UK have certain duties to provide health and social care support for disabled children. Sometimes, however, families experience difficulties accessing these rights. The series of ‘rights’ advice guides commissioned by Cerebra, are designed to help families who are experiencing problems with statutory agencies, such as social services and the NHS.

If you need additional support, the Cerebra Legal Entitlements Research Project may be able to help. The programme, which is free for families, enables Cardiff University law students (supervised by qualified staff, firms of solicitors and other disability organisations) to assist families who are experiencing a problem with their local health or social care services.

Find out more about Cerebra’s Legal Entitlements Research Project.