A LAWYER has branded Croydon council's decision to stop providing transport to and from a specialist centre for children with learning difficulties as "unlawful and immoral".
The council used to pay for pupils with special educational needs to travel to the literacy centre at Purley Oaks Primary School, South Croydon, but cut the service to save money.
Anthony Kennedy believes the decision contravenes the Education Act 1996, which states that no charges can be made for travel related to learning.
"The law is very clear – local authorities cannot charge for travel which is for the purposes of education," he explained.
"If kids are going off on a school trip to a museum or a performing music at an outside event then that's different.
"But what is more fundamental to education than teaching someone to read and write? To charge parents for that is unlawful and immoral. I'm determined to do something about it."
Mr Kennedy's daughter Lauren, 7, is so severely dyslexic that she is three years behind her classmates at Margaret Roper Catholic Primary in Russell Hill Road, Purley.
Lauren has recently been given a statement of special educational needs which entitles her to extra support at the Literacy Centre at Purley Oaks Primary, which she attends twice a week – on a Wednesday and Friday – during school hours.
The fee paid by her school for the literacy lessons had included the cost of providing transport to and from the centre, but the council changed its policy in response to the growing cost of transporting disabled and special children to and from school.
Parents of the most seriously impaired children still receive a door-to-door service. Others are expected to make their own arrangements.
Mr Kennedy, who lives three miles from the centre, in Mayfield Road, South Croydon, was advised to contact approved taxi firms which quoted between £780 and £936 a year, not including waiting times of 30p per minute.
"I have spoken to the other parents and they are of much the same opinion – it's absolutely ridiculous," he said.
"If they can't do it themselves then they have to get a private taxi firm to do it. I was quoted nearly £1,000 a year and I live fairly close by.
"Just think how much it would cost someone who lived on the other side of Croydon? It's obscene."
When parents expressed concerns after the policy was changed in 2011, Cllr Tim Pollard, cabinet member for children, young people and learners, said they would not need to pay for their child to get to the literacy centre because the plan was for staff to come to them instead.
"No such change in working practices of the centre ever took place," said Mr Kennedy.
"As a matter of routine children, including my daughter, are still taught at the centre."
As he works from home Mr Kennedy is currently able to take Lauren to and from Purley Oaks himself, but will have to pay when it starts to clash with his job.
"I'm in a fortunate position because I can afford to do that," he said.
"I'm not a single mother on an estate in the north of the borough, or a father out of work or on a low income. Their children need the special help this centre offers just as much as mine does, but they won't be able to afford it."
CROYDON COUNCIL'S RESPONSE
A CROYDON Council spokesman said: "Where schools are required to give pupils access to specialist support in other centres through a child's Statement of SEN, it is their responsibility to arrange appropriate transport. This should be funded from the money that they receive to provide for those children's educational needs. The council will be raising this matter with the school as we are quite clear it is their responsibility to make this provision. "With regards to the literacy centre, it was at one time proposed that their staff might operate on an outreach basis, but because sufficient numbers of schools have opted to continue to send pupils to the centre it has not been necessary to make this change."