Special needs pupil left without transport until day before term begins

Jack Downing,14, who has special needs has only just had confirmation that school transport will be

Jack Downing,14, who has special needs has only just had confirmation that school transport will be provided. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

A Suffolk teenager with special needs received details of his school transport with just hours to spare after weeks of uncertainty.

A Suffolk teenager with special needs received details of his school transport with just hours to spare after weeks of uncertainty.

Jack Downing, 14, from Trimley St Mary, was caught out when Suffolk County Council (SCC) retendered the network this summer, meaning many children were assigned new transport suppliers.

His mother Amanda Lawrenson, 47, had been attempting to contact Jack’s new provider, Phoenix Travel, for weeks – and feared she would be unable to send her son to school on the first day of term.

However the matter was resolved when company representatives turned up on her doorstep the day before Jack was due to go back to school, shortly after she got in touch with this newspaper.

Jack's mum had been attempting to contact the new provider for weeks Picture: Nick Butcher

Jack's mum had been attempting to contact the new provider for weeks Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher


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Ms Lawrenson decided to speak out after reading about other SEN children who had been left in limbo after the county council redesigned the school transport network.

She explained that Jack, who is on the autistic spectrum and also has Global Development Delay and learning difficulties, had been with the same provider since 2013 – which had an excellent relationship with the family.

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But after the council retendered the service earlier this year, he was assigned to Phoenix Travel.

After receiving a letter from the council in July with instructions to contact her new supplier, Ms Lawrenson claims she attempted to arrange a pick up time and meet and greet on four different occasions, but to no avail.

“I phoned and there was an answerphone in place,” she said. “Three subsequent conversations later I was given assurances that the meet and greet was going to be held.”

Ms Lawrenson was told that Jack could meet his new driver on September 3 and 4, and she would be contacted to arrange a time.

However by Monday night she had still not heard anything, so contacted the county council who promised to chase the company for her.

Despite this, Ms Lawrenson had still not heard back from Phoenix Travel or the council by yesterday morning, and said it would be impossible for her son to return to school – however desperate she was to keep him in education.

A proposed meet and greet was only held the day before Jack was due at school Picture: Nick Butcher

A proposed meet and greet was only held the day before Jack was due at school Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Then at 1.30pm yesterday afternoon, a member of staff from Phoenix Travel along with an escort on Jack’s bus turned up at her home for a meet and greet, and claimed to have no knowledge of the earlier correspondence.

“At 1.30 today two ladies arrived at my door, one from Phoenix Travel and one who is the escort on Jack’s bus,” she said.

“She had no record of me phoning at all and the escort only came back from holiday yesterday, so how a meet and greet could have been arranged for Monday/Tuesday I don’t know.”

Ms Lawrenson said that she was unable to drive Jack to school on a regular basis as she had to care for her mother, who is housebound.

Jack's mum decided to speak out after reading about problems with transport for other SEN children P

Jack's mum decided to speak out after reading about problems with transport for other SEN children Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

“I can’t do two of them together because she’s in a wheelchair,” she added. “Jack has his own set of complex needs. If I can’t get him to and from school safely then he can’t go.

“His welfare is the most important thing in my world. Ultimately I want him to have the arrangements that he is entitled to in place.”

Phoenix Travel had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

A spokesman for SCC said: “The family received a letter on 30th July with contact details of their new transport operator who has been available to arrange a ‘meet and greet’ opportunity since 9th August 2018. Parents have a legal responsibility to ensure their child attends school every day. Transport arrangements are in place for this child and we hope his parents make use of this service.”

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