School Transport

Education and Lifelong Learning – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 16th September 2010.

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Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 2:15 pm, 16th September 2010

To ask the Scottish Executive when it last reviewed its guidance to local authorities on school transport. (S3O-11367)

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government regularly reviews its guidance on school transport. In 2007 a new survey—"School Transport: Survey of Good Practice"—was issued, followed in 2009 by "Scotland's Road Safety Framework to 2020", which included a number of commitments to improving the safety of children travelling to and from school. We have since commissioned the production of a practical toolkit on school transport safety that will set out what local authorities could and should be doing further to ensure and improve school transport safety.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for his interesting reply. I realise that the work is still under way, but perhaps he can give some guidance on the importance that local authorities should place on the safety of young people who have to walk to school, particularly in rural areas, where roads can be unlit and the speed limit is often 60mph. How should those considerations be weighed against the application of the 2-mile and 3-mile walking distances?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

There is statutory provision regarding free school transport. In Scotland, authorities have a duty under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to

"make such arrangements as they consider necessary" for the transport between home and school of pupils residing and attending school in their area. In considering those arrangements, authorities are required to

"have regard to the safety of such pupils."

Therefore, safety is always a paramount consideration.

There is a statutory minimum distance—it is interesting to note that Dumfries and Galloway Council is one of the councils that observes the statutory minimum—of a 2-mile journey for under-eights and, thereafter, a 3-mile journey. However, that does not take precedence over safety. There must be a safety audit of the route to ensure that it is safe.

The member will know that there is often considerable dispute about such safety audits. On a number of occasions, I have encouraged parents and local authorities to negotiate on the issue of how accurate the safety audits should be. Nevertheless, there is a statutory duty to be mindful of safety and a statutory minimum distance. As free-standing and legally responsible bodies, local authorities must reconcile those to ensure that they are doing their best.