The Children’s Commissioner for Wales’ response to ‘Learner travel in Wales: analysis and evaluation: recommendations report December 2023’ which was published on 14 March 2024

Welsh Government’s review of the Learner Travel Measure is totally inadequate, falling short of signalling any meaningful change to current guidance or legislation, and meaningful changes to children’s experiences.  It is deeply disappointing for children, their families, and those of us who have been telling the Welsh Government for years about the wide range of problems children and young people currently face with home to school transport. They include:

  • a serious loophole in local authorities’ duty to risk assess routes. Risk assessments are a legal requirement for active travel routes children use to walk directly to school, but not for journeys children have to make from their home to a pick-up point to catch a school bus. My Advice team have heard from a family whose child was expected to travel the 1.4 miles from their home to a pick-up point on a route that wasn’t risk assessed. That’s almost 3 miles a day on a route that the council doesn’t know is safe.
  • current mileage thresholds for school transport are too high. The national guidance means that a secondary school pupil could walk up to six miles a day to access their right to an education. For some they are expected to do this on top of a bus journey to and from school each day. Estyn’s recent report on school attendance in secondary schools highlighted this as potential barrier to attendance, as did the Government’s own interim review published in 2021.
  • no legal duty to provide transport for young people who aren’t of compulsory school age. A young person choosing to study in their school’s sixth form could go from having free transport up until their GCSEs to suddenly having to pay for public transport to continue with their education. A third of young people live in poverty in Wales, and it’s those young people who will feel the impact of this most.
  • no legal duty to provide transport for young people with additional learning needs, despite them often having specific vulnerabilities that might make it difficult or distressing to walk to school or to get a public bus.

The Welsh Government published an interim review in 2021, acknowledging some of these issues and pointing to inconsistent provision across Wales and inconsistent experiences for children. They said that ministers were committed to reviewing learner travel, noting that “the option of ‘do nothing’ is not considered appropriate” and concluded that the interim work “justifies a comprehensive review of the Measure”, to prevent “further inequality, inconsistency in provision and further outdated codes and guidances”.

It is my view that the Welsh Government have let children down with a final review that has simply failed to deliver on the promising language of the interim review, and has failed to address the issues it had already acknowledged within the current guidance.

Since the 2021 review, my office has continued to have regular cases brought to us from across Wales in relation to this issue, including cases that have been brought to us by Senedd Members from different political parties.  It is clear that children across Wales are facing barriers just to access their education, a fundamental right for all.  On top of a cost-of-living crisis and concerns about declining school attendance, it is unacceptable that the Government has not taken the steps promised by the interim review to firmly get to grips with the persistent challenges faced by children in getting to school safely.

I will be taking my concerns forward with ministers urgently, and considering the use of my legal powers to examine the decision-making that has led to this wholly inadequate review.