Written answers

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Department of Education and Skills

School Transport

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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247. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the progress that is being made regarding the review of the school bus service; when the review will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49143/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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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.

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. The review encompasses the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs and the Primary and Post-Primary School Transport Schemes in terms of how each element of the schemes currently operate, to include eligibility criteria, trends, costs and cost drivers, and overall effectiveness in meeting the objectives of the schemes. The review will also examine the potential for integration of different strands of the scheme and a more co-ordinated approach with other Government Departments that also use transport services.

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 are now taking 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.

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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248. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will consider raising the amount paid to parents for the special school transport grant in view of the rising cost of fuel and insurance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49151/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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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.

The purpose of the Department's School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children with special educational needs arising from a diagnosed disability.

In general, children with special educational needs are eligible for school transport if they are attending the nearest school that is resourced to meet their special educational needs. Eligibility is determined following consultation with the National Council for Special Education through its network of Special Education Needs Organisers (SENO).

A Special Transport Grant (STG) towards the cost of private transport arrangements may be provided to families of eligible children in situations where:

- Bus Éireann is not in a position to provide a transport service

- a child's age, behavioural difficulties or medical needs are such as to make the provision of a transport service impracticable;

- an escort is considered necessary and the provision of such support is not feasible;

the cost of establishing/maintaining a service is considered prohibitive.

The rate of grant payable is calculated at 39.12 cent per kilometre from home to school for the first 6,437 kilometres and 21.22 cent per kilometre thereafter. Payment is based on the number of days that the families provided transport for their children.

There are no plans currently to increase the rate of payment for the STG.

The Deputy may be aware that 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.

Wider considerations relating to operation of the scheme are taking place in the current 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.

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