Tuesday, 5 October 2021
Department of Education and Skills
407. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the progress being made on the review of the school bus service; when she expects the review to be complete; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48036/21]
408. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if the review of the school bus service included an examination of the need to allow students attend their parish national school rather than their nearest school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48037/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 407 and 408 together.
The School Transport Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the 2020/2021 school year over 114,100 children, including over 14,700 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.
All children who are eligible for school transport and who completed the application and payment process on time for the 2021/22 school year will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation. This year I have extended measures to ensure that all post-primary pupils who are otherwise eligible for school transport but are attending their second nearest school and who have applied and paid on time will be accommodated on school transport services. This arrangement is in place for current school year pending completion of the full review of the School Transport Scheme. Bus Éireann has confirmed that to date 104,324 pupils, including 54,728 post primary eligible pupils and 14,735 post primary concessionary pupils have been issued tickets for the School Transport Scheme. This number is changing as tickets continue to be allocated to pupils. In the region of 98% of all valid and paid on time applicants have been issued with a ticket.
Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis only and are offered seats where capacity exists after all eligible children have been catered for.
My Department commenced a review of the School Transport Scheme in February 2021. The review is being conducted with a view to examining the current scheme, its broader effectiveness and sustainability, and to ensure that it serves students and their families adequately.
Following commencement of this review the Steering Group recently presented me with an initial interim report on eligibility with an examination of issues for mainstream pupils relating to the nearest and next nearest school. Following consideration of this report, I approved the extension of temporary alleviation measures for transport for post-primary students who are otherwise eligible for school transport but are attending their second nearest school and have applied and paid on time.
Wider considerations relating to operation of the scheme will take place in the next phase of the review which is now underway. The Steering Group will continue to report to me on an interim basis as the review progresses, with a view to presenting a final report with recommendations on the future operation of the Department’s School Transport Scheme.