Derbyshire County Council overturns decision to refuse free school transport for disabled Chesterfield boy who uses wheelchair

Sharon Davis and her son Josh Higginbottom, 10, near their house on Ashgate Road, Brampton. Photo by Eddie Bisknell.
Sharon Davis and her son Josh Higginbottom, 10, near their house on Ashgate Road, Brampton. Photo by Eddie Bisknell.

A council has made a U-turn after refusing school transport for a Chesterfield boy who uses a wheelchair for living within ‘walking distance’.

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

He has asymmetric quadriplegic cerebral palsy which means he has difficulty controlling movement of his arms and legs.

Derbyshire County Council had told Josh’s mother, Sharon Davis, he was not entitled to free school transport from his Brampton home to Ashgate Croft, a special school.

It said that because ‘the distance from your home to the school measures less than the statutory walking distance, there is no entitlement to assistance with transport’.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) walked the route of Josh’s journey to school with him and his mother to gain an insight into how safe and arduous it was.

But now the county council has overturned its decision - although it will not tell Ms Davis or the LDRS why it changed its decision.

A county council spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on individual children’s cases but there is an appeal process for all decisions around provision of transport.

“Original decisions are looked at as part of an appeal and any additional information provided as part of that appeal is also considered. Where appropriate, original decisions may be overturned.”

Ms Davis waived her right to any confidentiality concerning Josh’s case, but the council still said it would not discuss it.

She said: “No reasons were given as to why they have changed their mind.

“It could be because of your article and also the appeals I have made.

“They have not said how the transport will be given to Josh, either through a minibus or taxi, we have no idea.

“My first feeling when I got the letter was relief, but also of frustration that we shouldn’t have to keep fighting for little things like transport – it is just so wrong.”

In response to the article, several charities which specialise in fighting legal battles and special educational needs appeals said they would be willing to campaign on Ms Davis’ behalf for free.

Josh’s route to school, along Ashgate Road, is a busy and treacherous - particularly for a wheelchair-using 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.

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-using 10-year-old.

The family has a high-tech chair which Josh can operate through a joystick.

However, the chair is 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.

Strict government guidelines dictate 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.

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service