Following the launch of the Government’s 2016 Schools that Work for Everyone consultation, ministers argued that more good schools were needed as many children do not live within a reasonable distance of such schools. The need for greater access to good school places has underpinned the government’s proposals to expand certain types of schools, including free schools, faith schools and selective schools.

However, the government has been silent on the 110,000 pupils in special schools in England.

This analysis by the Education Policy Institute assesses whether this omission is justified, by examining how far pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) currently have to travel to get to a special school.

You can download the analysis here.

Key findings

The government has previously expressed concern that some children are living more than 3 miles from a good school. However, we find that pupils with SEND are having to travel far further to reach any special school:

  • In cities, the average pupil at an urban special school travels around 4 miles each way. In rural areas the average travel distance is 10 miles each way.
  • There are a significant number of pupils that are travelling much further still. Even in wider city areas, around 1 in 10 pupils travel around 9 miles each way in order to get to school.
  • In the most rural areas in England, the figure is even more striking – with around 1 in 10 special school pupils having to travel over 23 miles one way just to get to school.
  • Overall, pupils in special schools are, on average, travelling around three times as far as pupils in mainstream schools.

While longer travel distances to special schools are to be expected, improving access to other school types with shorter travel distances has been prioritised over special schools:

  • A key justification for the government’s prior plans to open new selective schools was that pupils currently travel further to get to them. This is correct – we find that on average pupils in grammars are having to travel further than those at non-selective mainstream schools.
  • However, comparing this with special schools, we find that, on average pupils attending a special school travel at least as far as those in selective schools.
  • The government has set out a commitment to improve access to good schools – yet it is unclear as to why measures to address the long travel distances made by pupils to all special schools have not also been considered.

Changes to school transport provision for those with SEND:

  • For those attending special schools reliant on home to school transport services, there is a risk that pressures on local authority budgets and changes to local provisions could pose a threat to the place of some pupils in the school system.