Pupils with special needs travel hundreds of miles to school

At least 3,000 children travel 20 miles or more away from home

At least 3,000 children travel 20 miles or more away from home

28 Apr 2022, 16:49

Thousands of children with special needs are being placed in schools 20 miles or more away from their home.

Figures obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) show at least 43,000 children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) are in schools or other education establishments outside their home council area. 

Of those, more than 3,300 have to travel an estimated 20 miles or more away – the maximum distance MPs on the education select committee suggested that children in the care system (a similarly vulnerable group) be moved away from where they live. 

Some of the distances are much higher. One child who lives in Tameside, Greater Manchester, has been placed in education 650 miles away in the Shetland Islands, with another from Cornwall at school 500 miles away in Fife.  

Read our six-page investigation here

In total, more than 100 children were placed in excess of 200 miles from where they live.

Seven children from North Tyneside are placed in Harrow, north-west London, around 270 miles away. Two young people from Islington are being educated in Cumbria – 280 miles in the opposite direction.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the disabilities charity KIDS, said an out-of-borough placement “can cut [a child] off from the same opportunities to live, learn and thrive at home and in their local community, as enjoyed by their non-disabled peers.

“Yet with early intervention and the right support, many children and young people could be educated in their local school.” 

‘Children have two-hour school runs – to what benefit?’

At times the situation appears self-defeating. Windsor and Maidenhead places one-fifth of all its EHCP pupils in more costly independent or non-maintained schools, because its own state capacity is used up by other local authorities. 

In Rutland, in the East Midlands, 38 per cent of children with an EHCP have been placed there by other local authorities – the highest proportion in England. In turn, Rutland has the highest proportion of children educated outside its borders. 

The council said it was aware of both issues and had published an inclusion strategy that will address “the need for Rutland children to remain in local provision”.  

Christine McInnes, director for education at Kent County Council, said: “There are children spending two hours being transported to a special school. To what benefit? 

“I’m not saying that should never happen, but it should only happen in extreme cases because actually you’re taking ten hours a week out of that child’s life when they should be doing after-school activities, meeting with friends, and having a life. Instead, they’re spending it being transported around.” 

It can cut children off from opportunities to live, learn and thrive at home and in their local community

For many parents it has become a case of weighing up a place that meets their child’s needs against the stresses and strains of getting them there.

Jayne Evans knows this balancing act well. Her son Dominic is unable to cope in mainstream education as a result of pathological demand avoidance (PDA), a profile on the autism spectrum. 

Jayne looked for a school in Wolverhampton, their local area, that could meet her son’s complex needs, but the nearest one she found was in Worcestershire, 20 miles away. 

Dominic now makes a three-hour round trip there and back every day. To make matters more complicated, he does so in a taxi with another child who also has complex needs. 

Councils shell out for private taxis

TBIJ found that, due to lack of transport provision, more than 13,000 special needs and disabled children in England travel to and from school in private taxis as the sole child in the car.

Not only do these journeys generate a huge expense for the councils in question but, for a child with ADHD or autism, they can be enormously stressful.  

“We’ve had a lot of problems,” said Jayne, who would have to give up work in order to drive Dominic to school herself. “It’s two very complex children who set each other off. The driver doesn’t understand SEND. If one of them gets upset or goes into crisis, he starts shouting.” 

More than once Dominic has fled the vehicle and run away along a busy road. Even on less dramatic days, the children are often late. It affects their education. 


Proposals in the government’s SEND review aim to resolve such issues. 

Parents or young people have a legal right to request that a particular school or college is named in an EHCP. 

But ministers want parents to instead choose a school from a “tailored list” of settings, based on provision available within the local area. Out-of-borough places could be offered, but would likely become rarer. 

The first available place based on the parent’s preferred schools would be allocated and named on the child’s EHCP.

But critics fear this may focus on what places are available, rather than a child’s needs. Cutting down choice could further inflame already-strained relationships between councils and parents.

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