Government turns its back on families on school transport – Smyth

illegal dumping 1– Children should not be forced to change schools as a result of new guidelines –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan and Monaghan Niamh Smyth says the Government is letting families down over its handling of the allocation of places under the School Transport Scheme.

“I am calling on the Education Minister to ensure that children are treated fairly when it comes to places on the School Transport Scheme. These cases highlight the need for the introduction of a School Transport Guarantee to ensure no child loses their place on board a school bus if they have been allocated a concessionary seat in either junior infants or first year of secondary school.”

“I am aware of a number of cases in Cavan and Monaghan where some children are deemed eligible for a place on the scheme while their neighbours, who may only live a couple of hundred metres away are not. Some students have been told that they have to transfer to a different school if they want to secure their place on the school bus. In many of these cases cited to me, the preferred school being highlighted by Bus Eireann has no bus service the area where the child lives.”

Deputy Smyth explained, “I have been contacted by a number of families in Cavan who are extremely distraught at the thought of having to move their teenagers to a new school in order to comply with the School Transport Scheme guidelines. “This will be a massive upheaval for these kids, especially during an exam year. They have no attachment to the new area – and their friends are all in the school they currently attend. It makes no sense that one student is eligible for the School Transport Scheme, while their neighbour is not. There is a complete lack of flexibility within the Department, and it is the students and their families that are suffering.

“This situation has come about as a result of the Department’s insistence that the distance between the home and the school is determined by the “shortest traversable route”. Some of the measurements are across small country roads, which are completely unsuitable for large school buses. If Department officials and representatives from Bus Éireann travelled the proposed routes, they would not stand over the decision or the policy itself, said Deputy Smyth.

“I am urging Minister Halligan to ensure that these children can continue their education in their current schools and to ensure that common sense and flexibility are applied in these cases”.

-Ends-

Note to Editors – Please find my Parliamentary Question attached for your review.

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 24/07/2018
Question Number(s): 565 Question Reference(s): 34347/18
Department: Education and Skills
Asked by: Niamh Smyth T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if the post primary school transport scheme will be reviewed in order to address the number of families in counties Cavan and Monaghan being deemed ineligible due to the nearest school rule.

REPLY

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

Currently over 116,000 children, including over 12,000 children with special educational needs, are being transported in over 4,500 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually at a total cost of almost €190 million in 2017.

The purpose of my Department’s School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school.

Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis only which is subject to a number of terms and conditions that are detailed in the scheme.

Arising from commitments in the Programme for Government, a review of the Concessionary Charges and Rules element of the School Transport Scheme was undertaken.

The review was published in December 2016 and made recommendations on both the charges and the rules element of concessionary school transport. 

The report also recommended that the number of concessionary places should be reduced in line with the rules introduced in 2012 on a phased basis. Previous plans to advance this option were put on hold, pending the completion of the review.

However upon consideration of the review and following discussions with the Cross Party Working Group which I established to feed into the review, I decided that there should be no planned programme of downsizing in the coming year except in line with normal operational decisions within the current scheme.

The terms of the School Transport Scheme are applied equitably on a national basis.

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