Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Education and Skills
181. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the imminent and significant challenges facing the school transport scheme and its administration in 2020; his plans for administering the scheme in terms of transporting pupils to and from school while prioritising pupil safety and implementing social distancing; the action taken within his Department to date in order to meet the significant health and safety challenges posed in administering the scheme in 2020 due to the pandemic; if his officials have held discussions with Bus Éireann in respect of the points outlined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10616/20]
School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.
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.
In the current school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, are transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.
Last autumn I announced a review of the School Transport Scheme with a view to ensuring funds are being spent in the most effective way to meet the objectives of the scheme. The terms of reference and scope of the review have been finalised and a cross-departmental steering group led by my Department established.
The decision taken by the Government to close schools with effect from 13th March 2020 was taken in the interest of protecting our pupils, their families, teachers and those members of the wider community and is one of the many measures taken to support efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
On the 1st May 2020, the Taoiseach announced as part of the “Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business” that schools will commence opening on a phased basis at the beginning of the 2020/2021 academic year.
The Department is currently working with the education partners and relevant stakeholders in planning for this phased re-opening which will be based on public health advice and which will put the best interests of our school population first.
The operation of school transport services in September 2020 will be informed by the outcome of this planning for re-opening schools.