TRANSPORT for disabled children has been criticised ahead of changes that parents fear will see children forced onto larger buses for longer periods to get to school.

Karen Tilley and her daughter Josselin, 12, live in Westbury.

Josselin has severe autism and very little communication due to being profoundly deaf and registered blind. She attends Threeways special school in Bath.

Josselin’s current travel plan means she travels in a taxi for 90 minutes every day to and from school.

However, Ms Tilley recently found out from a taxi company that from April 1 individual transport could stop and larger buses could be used for children in Wiltshire.

She said: “Recently, Wiltshire Council trialled combining Josselin’s journey to school with a couple of other children. It was a disaster. Children were distressed to the point they couldn’t get on the transport. The longer journey meant more traffic so pick-up times were delayed.

“The anxiety lead to Josselin having severely challenging behaviour – hitting and scratching herself and others, escaping from her wheelchair, which is dangerous in the back of a vehicle. Wiltshire Council transport department said they had only looked at geographic location of the children and not considered their individual needs and that it will never happen again. I now learn that from April 1 all individual transports will stop and larger buses will take over the journeys. This will mean some children with complex needs sitting on buses for over four hours a day.”

Wiltshire Council confirmed that transport contracts were due to come to an end but said that parents would be contacted before changes occurred.

A Wiltshire Council spokesman said: “We have been reviewing our SEND transport as current contracts with suppliers are coming to an end. We will be contacting parents before changes are introduced and we will work closely with them so any changes to transport will be managed appropriately for the pupils concerned.”

Other parents have spoken out against long journey times to schools within the county and in October the issue was debated during a Wiltshire Council meeting attended by concerned parents. Marlborough resident Jo Waltham called on the council to ensure that all journey times meet the Department for Education recommended limit of one hour and 15 minutes per day.

Speaking at a full council meeting in which she urged the council to address travel times, Mrs Waltham said: “Special Education Needs children may suffer anxiety, sensory processing disorders or may not be fully toilet trained so a journey time of that length is intolerable.”

Responding, Councillor Laura Mayes said: “The upper limit is 75 minutes. We would never want a child to travel further than that. We look at every journey a child takes and make sure it is the most efficient. If it is not acceptable for a child we will make those changes and look at it. We need to make sure journey times are the best they can possibly be for the child.”

Ms Tilley fears more children with special needs could end up being taught at home if the changes come in. and added: “All of these decisions have been made by people in the Wiltshire Council transport department who have never met the children. The information about the children given to the taxi companies was just the postcode and if they sit in a wheelchair or regular seat in transport. The council have not even contacted parents. I found out about this via a taxi company.”