This page provides information on the duties of local authorities to provide free school transport to children and young people.

The local authority has duties to provide school transport to children and young people in certain situations

What is the law on school transport?

The Education Act 1996 contains the law on school transport. The government has also issued statutory guidance called Home-to-school travel and transport 2014. Local Authorities must have regard to this when carrying out their duties on home to school travel and transport and sustainable travel.

What does the law say? 

Under section 508A of the Education Act 1996 local authorities must also promote the use of sustainable travel and transport for all children and young people of compulsory school age who travel to receive education in the local authority’s area.

Under section 508B and Schedule 35B of the Education Act 1996 local authorities are under a duty to provide free school transport to “eligible children”. 

Who is entitled to free school transport?

To qualify as an “eligible child”, the child must be of compulsory school age (5—16) attending a qualifying school and must fulfil one of the following criteria:

  • The child is living outside of the statutory walking distance of the nearest suitable qualifying school. 
    • For children aged over 5 but under the age of 8 the statutory walking distance is 2 miles. 
    • For children aged over the age of 8 and under 16 the statutory walking distance is 3 miles. 
    • The statutory distance is measured by the shortest route along which a child, accompanied if necessary, may walk safely.
    • A suitable school is defined as the nearest qualifying school with places available that provides education appropriate to the age, ability and aptitude of the child and considering any SEN the child may have.
    • A child’s home is defined as the place where he/she is habitually and normally resident.
  • The child cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school because of their mobility problems or other health and safety concerns related to their SEN or disability.
    • This will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
    • The local authority will consider whether the child could reasonably be expected to walk if accompanied and whether the child’s parent can reasonably be expected to accompany the child.
  • The child cannot reasonably be expected to walk the route to school because the nature of the route is unsafe to walk 
    • The local authority will consider whether the child could reasonably be expected to walk if accompanied and whether the child’s parent can reasonably be expected to accompany the child.
  • The child is entitled to free school meals or their parents are in receipt of maximum Working Tax Credit and
    • The nearest suitable school is beyond 2 miles (for children aged 8-11); or
    • The school is between 2-6 miles and there are not three or more suitable nearer schools (for children aged 11-16). The distance is to be measured by vehicle routes; or
    • The school is between 2-15 miles and is the nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion or belief (for children aged 11-16). The distance is to be measured by vehicle routes. Religion or belief includes a lack of religion or belief and so also applies to an atheist parent’s wish for their child to attend a non-faith school.

What is a qualifying school?

A qualifying school, for the purpose of identifying an eligible child, includes: 

  • community, foundation or voluntary schools
  • community or foundation special schools
  • non-maintained special schools
  • pupil referral units
  • maintained nursery schools or 
  • city technology colleges (CTC), city colleges for the technology of the arts (CCTA) or academies, including free schools and University Technical Colleges (UTC).

It will also include an independent school if named on a child’s statement or EHCP.

What is suitable transport?

To be suitable, the transport must enable an eligible child to reach school without such stress, strain or difficulty that they would be prevented from benefitting from the education provided. It must allow the child to travel in reasonable safety and in reasonable comfort.

Ideally, a child should not be expected to make several changes on public transport. Best practice suggests that a child of primary school age should not travel for longer than 45 minutes and a child of secondary school age should not travel for more than 75 minutes. 

Local authorities should also consider the walking distance to access public transport.

How will the transport be provided?

The local authority can:

  • Provide expenses e.g. refund travel costs to parents
  • Fund public transport e.g. through a season ticket
  • Provide school buses
  • Provide taxis or minibuses
  • Provide escorts to walk children to school.

Does the local authority have discretionary powers to grant free transport to other children?

Even if your child is not an eligible child he/she might still be entitled to free school transport. Section 508C grants local authorities a discretionary power to make arrangements for children who are not eligible under the criteria above. The local authority can ask for a contribution towards costs for this. It will be up to individual local authorities whether and how they will apply this discretionary power.

How do I apply for transport?

Local authorities must publish general arrangements and policies on school transport for children of compulsory school age. 

To apply for transport contact the local authority transport department and complete an application form, attaching any evidence necessary to demonstrate that you fulfil the criteria stated above, for example, proof of receipt of free school meals or Working Tax Credit or proof of a child’s SEN or disability.

When might the local authority refuse free transport?

If your child attends a school which is outside of the statutory walking distance but the local authority can demonstrate that there is a nearer suitable school then it is not liable to provide transport. The local authority must show that there is a real prospect that the child could get a place at that suitable alternative school.

What if my circumstances change during the school year?

The expectation is that once assessed as eligible for school transport the child should be eligible for the whole year and the local authority should avoid disrupting a child’s education by withdrawing school transport during the year. 

What if I believe that a grammar school is the nearest suitable school?

Some local authorities will provide transport to the nearest grammar school if it is outside of the statutory walking distance but others do not. It is important to check your local authority’s transport policy.

My child has been excluded and is attending a Pupil Referral Unit outside statutory walking distance, is he still entitled to free transport?

Where a child remains on the school roll but is attending another site as a result of a fixed term exclusion then he will be eligible for home to school travel during that temporary period.

What is the guidance on school transport for pupils requiring special arrangements?

The government has issued non-statutory guidance Home to school travel for pupils requiring special arrangements 2004 which details best practice in providing transport for children with SEN. This sets out some key principles:

  • Decisions as to entitlement to transport should be evidence based following an assessment of need.
  • Assistance should be provided in the least restrictive way and in accordance with local travel schemes.
  • Independent travel can be promoted as a way of the young person developing key skills.
  • The local authority should carry out a risk assessment and effectively manage any risks.
  • Travel needs of each pupil should be reviewed at least annually.
  • Pupils should travel using mainstream arrangements where possible.
  • Full details of the travel arrangements should be provided to parents/carers with details setting out their obligations.
  • If an escort is to be used, introduce the person to the child beforehand where the pupil has severe learning difficulties.

What is the law on transport for children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)?

 The SEN and Disability Code of Practice 2015 sets out the considerations for a child with an EHCP.

  • If the parents’ preferred school is further away from the child’s home than another school that can meet the child’s special educational needs the Local Education Authority (LEA) can name the nearer school if that would be compatible with the efficient use of resources. Alternatively, the LEA can name the parents’ preferred school with the condition that the parents agree to pay all or part of the transport costs.
  • Where the LEA names a residential placement at some distance from the parents’ home and the local authority, the LEA should provide transport or travel assistance (such as reimbursement of public transport costs, petrol costs or provision of a travel pass).
  • In exceptional cases where a child has particular transport needs this will be set out in the child’s EHCP.
  • The Local Offer must contain information about arrangements for transport (including for young people up to the age of 25 with an EHCP) including specific arrangements for specialised transport.
  • Transport costs may be provided as part of a Personal Budget where it is agreed and contained in the EHCP. 

Can I appeal a refusal of transport?

There is a right of appeal if the local authority refuses transport for your child. The local authority must provide you with details of how to appeal. 

The government has issued recommendations of how a transport appeals process should operate in practice, local authorities do not have to adopt this structure but it is good practice to. The guidance recommends a two stage process for any complaints relating to:

  • The transport arrangements offered
  • Their child’s eligibility
  • The measurement of statutory walking distances
  • The safety of the route. 

Stage one: review by a senior officer

  • The parent has 20 working days from receiving the transport decision to make a written request that the decision is reviewed
  • The parent should give detailed reasons for the review
  • Within 20 working days of receiving the parent’s submission, the senior officer must review the decision and send written notification of the outcome detailing:
    • The decision reached
    • How the review was conducted 
    • Details of other agencies who were consulted
    • What factors were considered
    • The rationale of the decision
    • Details of how to escalate to stage 2.

Stage two: review by an independent appeal panel

  • Parent has 20 working days from receiving the senior officer’s decision to make a written request to escalate to stage two
  • Within 40 working days of receiving the parent’s request the independent panel must consider written and verbal representations from parents and the officer
  • Within 5 working days the panel should give detailed written notification of the outcome detailing:
    • The decision reached
    • How the review was conducted 
    • Details of other agencies who were consulted
    • The rationale of the decision
    • Information about taking the review to the Local Government Ombudsman.

If the local authority does not have a satisfactory appeals process or if the refusal of transport is unreasonable then it may be possible to bring a claim for Judicial Review against the local authority. You should contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4345 to see if you qualify for legal aid for this claim. This claim must be brought within 3 months of the decision to refuse transport.

The local authority should also have a complaints procedure and if you feel that the local authority failed to comply with procedural rules then you can refer the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman on 0300 061 0614 or at

What if I cannot get my child to school?

Parents are responsible for ensuring that their children of compulsory school age attend school regularly. However, section 444(3B) of the Act provides that a parent will have a defence in law against a prosecution by a local authority for their child’s non-attendance at school where the local authority has a duty to make travel arrangements in relation to the child under section 508B and has failed to discharge that duty. 

Can the local authority withdraw transport because of bad behaviour?

Schools can cover behaviour on school transport under their behaviour and discipline policies and impose sanctions on the child for misbehaviour whether or not the pupils are wearing school uniform. It is possible for the school to withdraw transport, either temporarily or permanently, due to poor behaviour. A school can also exclude a child for poor behaviour on school transport.

It is worth checking the specific policy in question as there may be options to request a review. You may also wish to discuss the possibility of an escort to ensure future behaviour is better.

Is there transport for young people over 16?

Since June 2013 young people are required to stay in education or training for a further year after compulsory school leaving age, and this extends to the age of 18 from June 2015. The government has issued statutory guidance on Post-16 transport to education and training 2014 which local authorities must have regard to when carrying out their responsibilities. 

Local authorities have discretion to determine transport and financial support in their area and must publish their policies on this. Local authorities must have regard to:

  • The needs of those who could not otherwise access education or training and in particular those not in education, employment or training (NEET), young parents and those living in rural areas.
  • The young person having reasonable choice between education options.
  • The distance between home and the education establishment.
  • The journey time.
  • The journey costs
  • The needs of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. 

Is there a complaints process for transport for post-16 learners?

Local authorities must publish its policy on transport for those over 16 and the complaints procedure. A complaint can be escalated to the Secretary of State.

Under section 509AA(9) Education Act 1996 the Secretary of State can direct the local authority to make transport arrangements or provide financial help. The Secretary of State can also make a direction in cases where a local authority has exercised their functions unreasonably of failed to discharge a duty.