Home-to-school transport is vital support for families raising children with special needs. It can make the difference between a parent being able to hold-down a job or not. But demand is growing and, if budgets were tight before Covid-19, it is safe to assume they will be even tighter after. Technology can help transport planners navigate the need to find savings while delivering these essential services.

UK local authorities spend in excess of £1bn on home to school transport every year. A report published in 2019 found that 69% of the budget is allocated to SEN-D provision, just 26% of children. The national average for journey to school for a SEN-D child is around £11 each way. Cost of provision is growing, and the money has to come from somewhere. Over the last five years, pressure on budgets has led to 27% cuts in discretionary services for mainstream students.

Planning transport for SEND pupils

Questioning whether SEN-D transport planners could do better is a statement that will raise some heckles. It is a difficult job. Children with SEN-D requirements present a unique challenge. Many have complex personal needs and specialist schools are often far from the child’s home.

Meanwhile there is often a lack of flexibility on the supply side. Operators tend to only maintain fleets that they can keep busy all day, meaning the demand for vehicles is particularly intense at peak times. SEN-D children often need passenger assistants, a low-paid role for which it is difficult to recruit. The nature of the transport often means that drivers and support workers have to come into close contact with each child, putting both parties at risk - and some children with disabilities are unable to wear a mask. Sometimes, the combination of all these factors swings the balance of power to the operators.

‘That’ll do’?

Authorities are stuck between the needs of the children and families, the growth in demand, and the limitations of the market. As I said, it’s a difficult job.

But under the pull of conflicting forces, are authorities settling for ‘that’ll do’ routing?

Many local authorities spend weeks during the ‘planning season’ using free online tools such as Google Maps, or even physical maps and pins to manually plan routes. It’s a time-consuming process that doesn’t lend itself to query and change. And even when authorities use automated routing, they rarely compare products to assess the quality of results.

Optimised route planning gives planners’ visibility of operational constraints and more time and headspace to concentrate on contract management and stakeholder communication; it saves money on contracts, it improves the client experience, and it reduces emissions. The planners’ job is complex, but technology can help them.

Of course, much of this boils down to the F-word: funding. Funding for SEN schools has fallen 17% since 2015. But funding needs to be met with a willingness for scrutiny to guarantee value for money. Routing is just one element of SEN transport, but a good quality routing solution can make an enormous difference to the overall spend.

This is why we strongly advocate that planners compare routing solutions. As an example, one of our customers, found our software helped them secure savings of more than £270k; 115 miles per day; and over 3 hours of combined travel time for students - to just one school. The total savings, including those from the ongoing reduction in contracted vehicles, are now approaching £1m.

A further benefit of route optimisation is that it frees up planners’ time to focus on other areas; giving them the tools they need to enable better communication with families, schools and the transport providers, relieving pressure on all sides. Particularly this year, when tensions have been running higher than usual.

Building on best practice

Although there is room for improvement, there are lots of positive examples of best practice. We see compassion and commitment in the people we come into contact with – a real desire to create a better service and improve lives for children with SEN and their families. And despite the fall in funding, some money is filtering through and authorities are investing in new provision: Wiltshire is investing £33m in special schools in the north of the county; and Surrey County Council has just announced that it is using funding received from government in 2019 to create 213 additional specialist school places to save children having to make excessively long journeys outside the county.

We are also seeing a new generation of local government officers lobbying leadership to make better use of technology, such as route planning software. Although technology may not fix some of the deep-seated issues, it gives transport planners more time, better visibility and an evidence-base for explaining decisions.

Post-Covid-19, local authority budgets are likely to be tighter than ever. Efficient home-to-school transport routes can help those budgets go further.

If you are the responsible contact for home-to-school transport within a school or college, or perhaps work in the education department within a local authority, ask the planning department responsible for home-to-school transport in your area if they’re willing to test their current planning process against alternatives. A change could find improvements that secures a happier journey to school, not just during this pandemic, but for the rest of their learning journey. 

Liz Davidson at QRoutes

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel shared a video in channel. 20 hours 56 minutes ago

Richard Branson Pop Up Broadclyst

Richard Branson surprises school kids by popping up on Microsoft Teams to join an Enterprise lesson at Broadclyst School, Devon. He tells budding...

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 20 hours 56 minutes ago

Impetus #YouthJobsGap: Our Youth Jobs Gap research shows youth unemployment is far from being yesterday’s problem.… https://t.co/a08e5zcgXO
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page