TRANSPORTING special needs pupils to school in buses and using more taxi firms could be the only way to stop 'haemorrhaging' cash, education bosses have said.
Portsmouth City Council is expected to spend £372,000 more than budgeted by the end of March next year on getting students to school using taxis, minibuses and allocating bus passes.
Despite making savings in other areas the education portfolio is still predicted to be £337,000 in the red as more special educational needs and disability (Send) students are relying on council-provided transport.
Around 209,000 students a year in Portsmouth use the service in certain cases including if it is deemed ‘unsafe’ for them to walk to school and for learners with special educational needs or disability.
At an education cabinet meeting the council's deputy education director Mike Stoneman said: 'Basically we've got eight (transport) companies we use - four regularly.
'Because we are limited that means it's not competitive.’
Mr Stoneman said that the council was looking at employing a firm that would deal with a range of transport companies, with the idea being that having more travel companies touting for business would mean better deals for the council. He added that a school in Milton Keynes went from using 10 to 35 travel companies.
'We are also looking at if there other methods,’ he said. ‘For key stage 3 pupils at the Harbour School, should we be looking at a bus?'
Councillor Suzy Horton, the council's education boss, agreed. 'All these children have needs that must be taken into account,' she said.
'I've been to special schools and it's like a taxi rank outside at the end of the school day. You've got to think is this the most efficient way?
'This is happening all over the country and we should endeavour to lead the way in Portsmouth.'
However, Amanda Martin, National Education Union vice president and Portsmouth teacher, said the only long-term solution was more funding.
She said: 'Once again the local authority is being forced to make reactive decisions because there is not enough money in the SEN budget. So they are having to find ways to cut corners to make sure these kids can get to school.
'But these children are at SEN schools for different and complex reasons, so putting them all on a bus together is not going to be an answer.
'As a long-term solution high needs education needs more funding from government. At the moment they are haemorrhaging money.'