This case was an appeal to the Court of Appeal against a decision of the High Court, rejecting a human rights challenge brought against a change in the SEN transport to school policy of the local authority. The case was Drexler v. Leicestershire County Council  EWCA Civ 502 and while the appeal was unsuccessful and concerning provisions in English law, it has some useful and interesting points for us to consider.
Back to school, and the return of the school run. For many children this will mean travelling in vehicles (usually buses or taxis) arranged for them by the school or education authority.
This school year marks the beginning of the requirement for the publication of annual seatbelts statements. As of 1 August 2019 (or as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter) each school authority (i.e. education authority, proprietor of an independent school, or managers of a grant-aided school) must publish a seatbelts statement. This sets out what steps the authority has taken to comply with the seatbelts duty and to promote and to assess the wearing of seat belts by pupils carried by the authority’s dedicated school transport services.
The principal duty, which has been in force since 1 August 2018 for new school transport contracts, and will apply from 1 August 2021 for any remaining existing school transport contracts is as follows:
A school authority must ensure that each motor vehicle which the authority provides or arranges to be provided for a dedicated school transport service has a seat belt fitted to each passenger seat.
This covers both home/school transport and transport used for school trips, sporting events, residentials etc.
The Scottish Government has published guidance for schools: Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Act 2017 – Guidance – which includes a template for the annual seat belt statement.
Of course, pupils with additional support needs make up a goodly proportion of those requiring school transport. The guidance notes that:
Some pupils travelling on dedicated school transport may need specialist provision, such as smaller children needing a height-adjustable seatbelt, adjustable straps, lap belts, or adaptations which are required because a young person has Additional Support Needs. The Scottish Government recognises that school authorities, particularly local authorities, are better placed to conduct needs assessments in line with their existing obligations regarding education provision more generally and to make provision or enter into contractual arrangements to allow for this.
There’s not much in the guidance on this topic (in fact, it’s basically just this) but there are two assumptions which seem to run through this paragraph. First, school authorities should conduct needs assessments in relation to adaptations required for pupils with additional support needs to use school transport. Second, those adaptations should be made (either directly, or by ensuring that any contract for transport requires them to be made). This is broadly in line with the reasonable adjustments duty for disabled pupils under the Equality Act 2010.