Children were left without school transport after Shropshire Council wrongly said their route from home was safe enough to walk, an investigation has found.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the council’s appeal panel made “inappropriate personal judgements” about the children’s mother trying to shift her childcare issues onto the council, and “pre-determined” her appeal.

The authority was ordered to apologise and pay compensation to the mother over its “flawed” policy and faults in the decision-making process, as well as re-assessing the application.

The council said the policy had been updated and the application re-assessed, with the two primary school-aged children now eligible for free school transport.

The children’s mother, named in the ombudsman report as Ms X, applied for transport due to her belief that the route was not safe for them to walk.

The application was assessed under the council’s ‘extremely hazardous routes’ policy, and was refused on the basis that the route was not extremely hazardous – despite crossing a busy bypass.

The report says: “The legal test the council had to apply was whether the route was safe or unsafe, not whether it was extremely hazardous.

“The council was wrong to say it does not have to consider hazardous routes only extremely hazardous ones.

“I find the council essentially misdirected itself from the start.”


Ms X appealed and a hearing was convened, but she missed the invite as it went into her ‘junk’ email folder.

At the hearing, three panel members, who were all managers of council departments, heard from a representative for the authority’s transport team.

Notes from the hearing revealed panel members made comments such as, “this is not for the local authority to sort out – parents are responsible for driving their children to school”, and “Ms X had chosen to live at the property and surely these things should be considered by parents”.

One panel member referred to Ms X’s childcare issues and said she was “seeking to pass these on to the council”.

The ombudsman found the panel failed to properly assess a number of risks as they were not covered by the policy, which “casts doubt on the decision reached”. The report adds that it “should have been obvious to the panel that the policy was flawed”.

The panel decided it would wait to hear from Ms X before making a judgement, but the report says members then went on to deliberate, with the transport representative present and “participating in the discussion”.

The panel reconvened five days later to hear from Ms X. She asked for the whole route to be properly assessed, including crossing the busy A road.

Following this, there were no further deliberations and the decision notice was sent two weeks later.

The report says: “I have significant concerns about the way the stage two panel appeal hearings were conducted.

“These were oral ‘hearings’ not ‘meetings’ between council officers.

“The usual process for a hearing would be to listen objectively to the evidence from both sides and then to deliberate in private, without the parties present, to reach a decision. This is not what happened.

“The decision appears to have been made before the panel met Ms X, as there was no further deliberation included in the notes after the first part of the hearing.

“The panel deliberated with the rep present, who participated in the decision-making process, an opportunity not granted to Ms X.

“This was unfair. I find the outcome of the second part of the hearing, when Ms X gave her representations, was pre-determined.”

Want to stay up to date with all the latest stories from Oswestry and the surrounding area? Click here to sign up for our morning and daily email newsletters and click on the + for the ‘Morning Briefing’ and the 'Daily Catch-Up'.

The ombudsman said the council should apologise and pay £250 to Ms X for the distress caused by the way the appeal was handled.

It concluded that the council should carry out a full walked assessment of the route and make a fresh decision on the application.

It also said that if the outcome was that free transport should be provided, the council should consider making a further payment to Ms X to compensate for the period of time that her children missed out on free transport.

In response to the report, the council confirmed it had re-assessed the application and reviewed its policy.

Councillor Kirstie Hurst-Knight, cabinet member for children and education, said: “Following a Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) review investigation into the appeal for transport on ‘extremely hazardous routes’ grounds, it was identified that the council’s extremely hazardous routes policy at the time needed to be updated in line with the Department for Education’s statutory guidance for home to school transport.

“Road Safety GB Guidelines formed the basis for the policy as recommended by the Department for Education’s statutory guidance which, following a consultation, has now been approved by cabinet and re-named the ‘unsafe walking routes’ policy.

“As a result of this, we are pleased to confirm that having undertaken a revision of this application against the new ‘unsafe walking routes’ policy, free school transport has been granted and we are currently making school transport arrangements in this respect.”