Disabled Chesterfield boy in wheelchair refused a free bus to school

Josh and his mum Sharon.
Josh and his mum Sharon.

A wheelchair-bound Chesterfield boy has been refused free transport to his school because he lives within “walking distance”.

Josh Higginbottom, aged 10, is a full-time wheelchair user and has a number of speech impediments.

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He has asymmetric quadriplegic cerebral palsy and so has difficulty controlling movement of his arms and legs.

However, Josh, who is set to attend Ashgate Croft School, in Brampton, has been told by Derbyshire County Council that “the distance from your home to the school measures less than the statutory walking distance, there is no entitlement to assistance with transport”.

Strict government guidelines dictate that children over the age of eight only qualify for free transport if they live more than three miles away from the school.

Meanwhile, children under the age of eight must live more than two miles away from school to qualify.

The journey to Josh’s new school, to which he is to be transferred to from Brampton Primary School in September, is half a mile from the family’s Ashgate Road home.

However, the route along Ashgate Road is a busy and treacherous, particularly for a wheelchair-bound child.

It involves crossing six busy roads, one of which is the main road, along with the frontage of a petrol station and a Co-op supermarket.

The route is made more arduous because the pavement on the north side of Ashgate Road is too narrow for a wheelchair. Cars regularly park on the pavement on the south side, potentially blocking Josh’s path.

His mum, Sharon Davis says she has faced a number of difficulties obtaining support for her son in school and this is just the latest twist in the tail.

She said: “He struggles to make the distance and with cars on the kerb and the traffic, it is very difficult for him. It would be an hour for him to get to and from school each day.

“He struggles if anyone is beside him or walking past or in front, it’s difficult for him to work out how much space to leave and, as I say, it doesn’t help if there are cars on the kerb.

“He struggles with the lack of dropped kerbs on the way.

“He can’t operate the chair on his own yet so he needs me to be there for him.

“It will only be worse in peak hours with more cars, more people walking. Also, in the wet it will take him twice as long, if not more.

“I can’t always be there for him and he needs to have his own independence.

“I could send him to school in a manual chair but then we wouldn’t have the independence and he needs to be able to go and play with other kids.

“If he has to go on this route, he will get to school in no state to work or learn. It is going to take it out of him.”

Travelling on the route with Josh and Sharon took just over 26 minutes to complete.

What seemed to cause the largest problem was the constant uneven pavement along the way – these require persistent small twitch responses for Josh and wear him out mentally and physically.

Another issue is the wide junctions which Josh must cross – difficult for any child, let alone a wheelchair-bound ten-year-old.

Sharon says that she could take Josh to school in the family’s custom van, which has a gradual ramp attached to the boot.

However, she says there is not sufficient parking near the school to allow this and it would also include trying to get Josh out of the van by the busy Ashgate Road, and its peak morning and afternoon traffic.

She says there would be no safe way to do this.

The family have a high-tech chair which Josh can operate through a joystick – which has a golf ball on top.

However, the chair is extremely heavy and is tiresome for Josh to operate for long periods of time and he often gets cramp in his right hand as a result.

Josh said: “It is tiring. I won’t have energy to do work. I felt safe on the way but because I was with mummy.

“It will take a lot longer.”

A spokesman for Derbyshire County Council said: “We can’t comment on individual cases but the county council’s policy states that if a secondary school pupil lives less than three miles from their chosen school then transport is not usually provided.

“Each request is considered taking into account an individual’s circumstances and where a request for transport has been turned down there is an appeal process where the decision would be reviewed.”