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Report into Suffolk's School Travel Policy finds 'significant' issues

The report published this week identified 19 key improvement findings which Suffolk County Council says are informing this year's process.

The review analysed a wide range of evidence from stakeholders including staff, councillors, parents and schools about the implementation of the School Travel Policy.

It found there were 'significant' issues with the IT and systems used to process applications, which caused staff to be unable to process them effectively, resulting in some parents experiencing a prolonged application process.

The county council says improvements to enable automatic processing and effective data extraction and analysis is already taking place and will be ready for this year's opt-in process.

They said the appeals process is also being simplified, after the report found various issues such as the 'complexity' and 'time-consuming' nature of the process.

Families intending on applying for a spare seat will also be asked to do so in a separate process in the future, after it was identified it caused frustration upon applicants and became entwined with the School Travel Policy.

Another issue raised in the report was the lack of staff to process 11,674 applications last year, which is a rise from around 2,000 in previous years.

The council said, despite the huge demand of staff, 90.9% of bus passes were issued by the start of term. To help with the application and appeal process, additional members of staff have been recruited.

Councillor Mary Evans, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, Education and Skills, said: "I welcome the outcomes of this review and I am pleased to say a great deal of work is already being undertaken to make improvements.

"I thank everyone who took part in the review for their valuable insight into the process. It was important that we received a wide range of feedback from different stakeholders to provide a comprehensive picture of what went well and what did not go well.

"I am taking these findings extremely seriously. I am committed to ensuring that the system for applying for school transport is much more effective and efficient for pupils, parents and schools in 2020 and future years."

Meanwhile Councillor Jack Abbott, Labour Spokesperson for Education at Suffolk County Council, added: "Although this report will come as little surprise to the thousands of families who had to endure an incredibly difficult summer, it does highlight a litany of problems that beset the implementation of the Conservative's School Travel Policy.

"It is clear that a hardworking school transport team were left poorly resourced by a Tory administration who handed down a half-baked policy without producing a robust implementation plan.

"However, you cannot separate the fact that the farcical state of affairs we saw last year was intrinsically linked to a deeply flawed policy. Unless significant changes are made to the policy itself, we will continue to see these chaotic situations, each and every year."

You can see the full report here.

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