Top honours for team who give independence to young people with special educational needs

Photo caption: (top) Members of the winning team collect their trophy at the Children and Young People Now awards.

(bottom) the Children's Transport Team with their award.

A team who help young people with special needs and disabilities gain independence and confidence have received a top national industry award.

The Children’s Transport Team at Leeds City Council won the ‘Learning Award’ at this year’s Children and Young People Now awards for their Independent Travel Training project which teaches young people with special needs the skills and confidence to use public transport.

Members of the team attended a black-tie awards ceremony in London to collect their award.

Councillor Judith Blake, executive board member responsible for children and families said:

“This award is fantastic recognition for the hard work of the children’s transport team. They have helped so many young people with additional needs to gain self-confidence and independence, and ultimately change their lives for the better.

“By helping these young people learning the skills needed to travel independently they are opening up so many opportunities, both socially and for their future employability. I would like to congratulate the team for the difference they are making, not only to the young people themselves but also their families too.”

Following the success of a pilot which originally started in 2008, over 275 young people are now able to use public transport rather than being dependent upon taxis or their parents, thanks to the training provided by this team.

As a result of special educational needs, many children and young people are reliant upon others for transport, often needing taxis to take them to and from school or college, and their parents to drive them around to meet friends and socialise. This narrows their experiences and opportunities in learning and life and restricts their future employment prospects.

The independent travel training raises their self-confidence and self-esteem and helps them lead lives more in-common with their peers. The learners are provided with a ‘travel buddy’ who implements training which is tailor-made for each young person. Over four to six weeks the buddy works through every aspect of independent travel, from using pavements and crossings safely to ready bus timetables, buying tickets and managing money. When a learner first starts making independent journeys they are ‘shadowed’ by a buddy who can step in if something goes wrong. It is only when the buddy, the young person and their parents are comfortable that the young person is allowed to start travelling independently.

The project has been self-financing due to the savings made in the reduction of expensive taxi journeys.

Case study:

Anna, a 19 year old student of Leeds City College who has Cerebral Palsy, had travelled between home and school by taxi.

Keen to develop her levels of independence, Anna had begun to try make use of public transport at weekends. However her confidence was severely knocked when she fell over on the bus. Following this incident Anna no longer went out anywhere by herself, although both she and her parents wanted to try develop her independent travel skills again. After contacting the Children’s Transport Team, arrangements were made for Anna to meet a Independent Travel Training (ITT) buddy, Mandy.

A travel plan was devised for Anna which, over a six week period, helped develop her independent travel skills. Of this plan, Anna’s parents commented: “It has been planned very well and given her confidence in stages. We have been kept informed the whole way through’’

Anna worked very hard during her travel training and soon she felt capable of meeting her Buddy, Mandy, at the bus stop near home, instead of having Mandy meet her at home. Later they began meeting at the bus stop in Leeds, and eventually Mandy just waited at college to make sure Anna had arrived safely.

Mandy empowered Anna to take more control on journeys and to overcome her fear of speaking to bus drivers. She now does this with confidence, asking drivers to lower the ramp for ease of access, and asks that they wait until she has sat down before setting off - something she would never have felt confident about before. Anna requested extra road safety training which was provided during the summer, which means she can now cross roads near to college with confidence and care. The staff at Anna’s college are also more confident in her abilities and she is now able to go off- site at lunchtime with her friends.

Anna and her parents are thrilled with how she has matured and developed her skills through the training. Her father sums up the positive impact of the training: ‘’It gives us happiness as a family to see Anna gain greater independence, and it also gives us the confidence that she is safe and has the skills to address the challenges she will face when travelling on her own. Since she has done this training, she has started helping to walk the dog on her own again, which helps out at home. She has also walked almost a mile over to her Grandparents on her own…she would not have done this before. Additionally, she is now confident enough to go out at college with friends and also go to restaurants and movies with friends on her own. The independence for Anna is like a path to adulthood, and she is well into her journey now……”

Anna said:

“Travelling independently has allowed me to do what other teenagers do; get myself to college and fit in with the rest of my friends.

“It has made me less of a target to my peers and makes me feel equal to them. Being on transport restricted me as to what I was allowed to do at college as I wasn't allowed to go out for lunch with my friends and made to hang around for a while for my taxi.

“It has changed my life for the better and has made me feel good about myself.

“In the past I have struggled to come to terms with my disability and it got me down, but now after travelling alone I know I am not different just because I have a disability I am actually an achiever and am extremely proud of myself.

“I would recommend this training to everyone out there and tell them nothing has to hold you back, you can achieve anything if you work hard at it.”


For media enquiries, please contact:

Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713

Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk