The Costs and Challenges of Changing the Specifications for School Transport in Scotland
Statutory Home to School Transport Services
2.1 The safety and welfare of pupils when travelling to and from school is a paramount concern for education policy makers and authorities, and can be a highly emotive subject for parents, guardians, families and local communities where there are real or perceived risks in undertaking such journeys. This is reflected in legislation which entitles pupils who live over maximum walking distance thresholds to free or supported travel from their education authority. During such journeys, pupils are under the charge of the authority.
2.2 With approximately 120,000 pupils carried on statutory school transport services every day, there is a significant financial outlay on the part of education authorities. In 2012/13, this was estimated at £126 million.
2.3 It therefore falls on Central Government, from a policy perspective, and Local Government, from a delivery perspective, to ensure that value for money in school transport is achieved and that potential improvements are identified and, wherever possible and practicable, implemented.
Research Into Statutory Home to School Transport Provision
2.4 In order to understand how any proposed changes to school transport policy might affect future provision, Transport Scotland required a baseline picture of the current market and industry coupled with a flexible forecasting model which captured, as far as practically possible, the full spectrum of factors which might influence future costs. To achieve this, a three-stage methodology for this research was adopted, comprising:
- a data collection exercise with local authorities and operators on the demand for, and supply of, school transport;
- a qualitative phase to understand issues and challenges associated with school transport provision in greater depth, and to translate these into tangible factors for the forecasting model where they are liable to have a significant effect on demand or supply; and
- design and build of a demand and cost forecasting model.
Scottish School Transport Specifications Costing Model
2.5 The focus of the model was to test a range of potential stipulations on school transport contracts, including attributes such as:
- seatbelts, including variations between three-point and lap belts;
- reduced local emissions from public service vehicles, captured through distinctions in the type and age of their engines;
- accessibility of the vehicles;
- provision of warning signs and the use of hazard lights to alert other road users to pupils boarding and alighting services;
- minimum stipulations on driver training, age, experience, dedicated drivers to each service; and
- provision of monitors on-board services.
2.6 In addition to the above, it is also sensitive to:
- trends in primary, secondary and Additional Support Needs (ASN) pupils;
- participation in state schools and changes in eligibility for statutory transport (capturing changes in the size and location of schools);
- operators' fleet renewal rates;
- bus industry costs;
- long term mode share trends for travel to school;
- levels of competition for contracts;
- whether any change in stipulations is immediate or phased over time in line with contract renewal; and
- operator responses to changes in stipulations on contracts.
2.7 In order to capture spatial variation in current provision and future demand and costs, the model was grouped into five regions, based around the Regional Transport Partnership (RTP) areas, and from that tier, schools were split into urban and rural establishments. User inputs were allowed to vary, as appropriate for the data or policy lever in question, by geography and/or school type.
2.8 Further detail on the data and methodology which underpin the model is provided in Chapter 6, and an accompanying Model Specification Report and User Manual.
2.9 After this initial introductory Chapter, this Report continues with:
- Chapter 3 - context for current statutory school transport provision in Scotland
- Chapter 4 - findings from surveys of local authorities and operators on current provision
- Chapter 5 - a qualitative, in-depth, exploration of the challenges and issues facing statutory school transport provision through interviews with local authority officers, operators and attendance at the Association of Transport Coordinating Officers (ATCO) Education Sub-Committee meeting
- Chapter 6 - an overview of the demand and cost forecasting model