Angry parents say disabled children traumatised by new taxi service

Angry parents say disabled children traumatised by new taxi service

September 18, 2019

Angry parents say severely disabled children have missed lessons and been left ‘confused and undone’ by ‘shambolic’ school taxi service after Labour council replaced ‘bourgeois’ local cab firms with new provider

  • Disabled children in Brighton are taken to special-needs schools in taxis
  • The council has switched from using local firms to Edge Public Solutions
  • It is understood they were paid around £500k to consult on service provision
  • Children have been seen banging their heads on windows, waiting 30 minutes
  • Parents say cars have failed to come to pick up children or made trips with vulnerable youngsters seated next to those with violent behavioural problems
  • Council has apologised and opened an independent investigation into matter 

Severely disabled young schoolchildren have missed lessons and been left ‘sad and confused’ after a change in home-to-school transport by Brighton council left dozens without the travel and care arrangements they need.

The Labour-run authority has apologised and opened an investigation into the failure, which has caused outrage among parents who have been told it will take up to a month to rectify the problems.

Meanwhile extremely vulnerable children with severe learning disabilities have been forced to miss school, or share rides with fellow pupils who suffer aggressive and violent behavioural problems.

Pippa Hodge said of her autistic son Leo, 10: ‘My son would be raring to go and waiting for his community transport with a big smile on his face. 

‘Now he is sad, fizzy and confused and his teachers report that he is unsettled in the classroom.’ 

Rob Arbery, father of severely disabled Aidan, 17, said: ‘For families like us who might be dealing with a child you are going to be looking after for 65 years, you can never get the time back.

‘It is the students more than the families who are suffering now.’

Rob Arbery, father of Aidan, 17, who attends Hill Park School in the city said the council was blaming ‘everyone but themselves’

For years special educational needs and disability (SEND) children have been ferried to and from the city’s special-needs schools by Brighton taxi firms and their drivers.

The council contract is worth over two million pounds a year, and the business was shared between three local firms, one of whom has a long record of putting on free Christmas meals for the disabled children it serves.

But with one contract coming to an end the council brought in consultants Edge Public Solutions, based in the northwest, to advise on how to draw up the new contract.

Their fee for the consultancy work was just shy of £500,000.

Consultants Edge Public Solutions then, themselves, bid for and won the new contract, with a quote which is forecast to save in the region of £290,000 over the first two years of the contract.

Brighton councillor Nick Childs stepped down from chairing the schools committee after MailOnline revealed he sends his daughter to a £40,000-a-year private school while railing against privatisation

Challenged on the change, Momentum-backed Labour councillor Nick Childs said he wasn’t in the business of defending ‘petty bourgeois local monopolies’.

Councillor Childs stepped down from the chairmanship of the schools committee after MailOnline revealed he sends his daughter to a £40,000-a-year finishing school despite railing against privatisation in education.

But massive problems emerged last week at the beginning of the new school term, after drivers and subcontractors pulled out at the last minute.

Sources said they had not been briefed on the level of special needs provision needed when they agreed to work with Edge.

Since the new contracts for 320 pupils came in last week dozens have missed school, after cars failed to arrive.

At least 30 children have been left without transport to and from Downs View and Hill Park special schools. Last Tuesday 15 children were left stranded at home.

Children with learning difficulties have been seen banging their heads against the windows inside taxis as they face waits of up to half an hour outside their schools.

One parent heard nothing about a child’s lift because the council had been liaising with the child’s other parent – despite a restraining order having been imposed.

Vulnerable pupils, including blind children and those with external feeding tubes, had to share a lift with two boys who should have been granted ‘travel alone’ status because of their aggressive behavioural problems.

One driver lost the child he was transporting, who was later found 500m from the school by a member of the public who had pulled him out of the road to avoid him being hit by a car.

One parent saw children squeezed into the back of a cab with an escort who could not control them, hitting themselves, screaming and rocking, clearly distressed.

Today lines of cabs and minibuses could be seen queuing to pick up children at one special needs school in the city

Opposition councillor Mary Mears told a council meeting the cost to schools in terms of 32,000 lost teaching hours would come to £840,000 over two years because teaching staff now had to escort children from taxis and minibuses into school. 

A spokeswoman said the council does not recognise these figures and is working hard to resolve issues.

This week the council issued an ‘unreserved’ apology and launched an investigation – but parents remain outraged. 

Rachel McDonald, mother of disabled Eran, 12, said: ‘They’ve told us it will be four weeks until we can have suitable transport for my daughter. ‘I’ve already done two and I’m knackered.

‘At the end of the day, I have to sit for an hour and a half with a crying child trying to persuade her to go to school the next day.

‘We had the same driver for two-and-a-half years and built up the trust. Now, all that good work has been undone.

‘We are only asking for what our children are entitled to, not anything more than that – to be safe and emotionally well.

‘My daughter is coping because I’m taking her to school in the morning but she gets stressed at the end of the day because she doesn’t know who is picking her up.

‘She hits herself in the head and cries because she is so frightened.

Rob Arbery, chair of governors at Hill Park School which his disabled son Aidan, 17, attends, said: ‘They didn’t do the proper planning. 

‘They are trying to blame parents, teachers, everybody but not themselves. 

‘Children are having problems at school because the disruption means they are not settling quickly. ‘

Aidan has OHDO syndrome, which leaves him with profound multiple learning difficulties, no mobility, and limited ability to speak and eat. 

‘For families like us who might be dealing with a child you are going to be looking after for 65 years, you can never get the time back. 

‘It is the students more than the families who are suffering now.’

He said his family has been using community transport for more than a decade, but that now: ‘we don’t know if any of them have the relevant training to look after our children properly.’

Other parents have criticised the current ‘shambles’, with one saying: ‘Before, it was properly co-ordinated. Now with several contractors, they’re all turning up at once.

‘The children aren’t meant to be waiting more than five minutes before being taken into school but it’s been almost half an hour.’ 

An opposition councillor said schools including specialist Hill Park School will lose 32,000 hours of teaching time over two years to looking after children waiting for transport but the council said it did not recognise that figure

Pippa Hodge’s 10-year-old son Leo has autism, severe learning disabilities, sensory processing difficulties, and impulsive behaviour.

She said: ‘Today is day nine of my son’s new school term but I have still had no communication from the transport team.

‘My son has missed a day of school when I was too exhausted to take him and has missed about 25 hours of his education so far. 

‘Our family life has been turned upside down, as a single parent with three children to top and tail for the school day and given my chronic sleep deprivation, this is affecting our family routines, the voluntary advocacy and support work that I do for other vulnerable families here in Brighton and my own health directly. 

‘On the days I’ve been well enough, I’m spending up to three hours every day driving, which has caused my osteoarthritis to flare and means I’m missing all my rehabilitation physio.

‘My son is taking two hours every night to settle because he is so confused and undone by the change to the routine he has been used to over the past seven years of a transport arrangement that was well supported by the local experienced contractors. 

‘My son would be raring to go and waiting for his community transport with a big smile on his face. Now he is sad, fizzy and confused and his teachers report that he is unsettled in the classroom.’ 

A council spokeswoman said all allegations around child welfare would be investigated and action taken

On Monday Cllr John Allcock, chair of Children, Young People and Skills Committee, apologised, promised to resolve the issues, and announced an independent review into what went wrong.

He said: ‘I want to make a direct and unreserved apology on behalf on the administration for the distress, anxiety and stress that has been caused to children, young people and families as a direct consequence of the change to Home to School Transport arrangements.

‘The absolute top priority at the moment is to ensure the wellbeing of the children and young people concerned.’

On Monday Cllr John Allcock, chair of the schools committee, apologised to parents

Today a spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: ‘Edge was contracted by the council following all appropriate and legal procurement processes.

‘Edge has provided two separate services in relation to Home To School Transport. 

‘Initially they advised on how to improve transport services. 

‘In a separate piece of work, the company was contracted to work in-house with our school transport officers in the Home to School Transport Service.’

She added that operators had been briefed on children’s disabilities but ‘gaps of information’ had become apparent.

She added: ‘The net saving for the council in the first two years is in the region of £300,000 however this is an ongoing programme that will deliver more savings over a longer time scale than the two year involvement of Edge.’

She said all allegations around child welfare would be investigated and action taken. 

Jim Aspin, managing director of Edge Public Solutions, said: ‘The fee we are to be paid for our work is commercially confidential however, I can confirm that the contract was awarded following a standard Council procurement process in which Edge public solutions participated.

‘The Council has confirmed that they are completely satisfied with our contractual performance.’ 

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