Thursday, 13 July 2023
Department of Education and Skills
393. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she envisages a change in the school transport system in Kildare North with a view to ensuring that children displaced in the past year can avail of the service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35570/23]
The School Transport Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2022/2023 school year, over 149,000 children, including over 18,000 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country.
There has been an increase of 21% in tickets issued to eligible students and an increase of 38% in tickets issued on a concessionary basis in the 2022/23 school year compared to the 2021/22 school year.
In addition, school transport scheme services have been provided for over 5,400 children who have arrived to Ireland from Ukraine.
The total cost of the scheme in 2022 was €338.9m.
The purpose of the 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.
New school transport routes are established on a demand-led basis, subject to eligibility requirements. A minimum number of 10 eligible children residing in a distinct locality, as determined by Bus Éireann, are required before consideration may be given to the establishment or retention of school transport services, provided this can be done within reasonable cost limits.
The closing date for new applications for the 2023/2024 school year was Friday 28th April 2023. The closing date for payment/entering medical details for tickets for the 2023/2024 school year was Friday 9th June 2023.
Bus Éireann are currently processing applications, arranging transport and assessing all applications to determine whether they are eligible or concessionary and to include Temporary Alleviation Measures (TAMS) as soon as possible for the 2023/24 school year. Bus Éireann have begun to issue eligible tickets from early July.
Bus Éireann are now reviewing all school transport services based on the number of applications received. Arising from this review, routes may be altered, extended or withdrawn depending on the number and location of eligible children who will be availing of school transport for the following school year.
A review of the School Transport Scheme is currently underway. 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.
Phase 1 of the review examined the impact of eligibility criteria on mainstream pupils who were eligible for transport to their nearest school but attending their next nearest school. The report was completed in June 2021.
Following consideration of this Phase 1 report, for the 2021/2022 school year, the provision of temporary alleviation measures was approved for transport for post-primary students who are otherwise eligible for school transport, but were attending their second nearest school and had applied and paid on time. These measures have been continued for the current 2022/2023 school year, and will again continue in the 2023/2024 school year pending completion of the review.
For the 2023/2024 school year, these measures mean that transport will be provided for post-primary pupils who are eligible for transport to their nearest school and are attending their second nearest school and, who applied for school transport by the 28th April 2023 and pay for a ticket/enter medical card details by the 9th June 2023.
Phase 2 of the review was completed late last year and phase 3 will be completed shortly. This final report will include recommendations on the future operation of the Department’s School Transport Scheme. Once approved by Government, it is planned that the review will be published.
For the 2023/2024 school year, it remains that children are eligible for transport at primary level where they reside not less than 3.2 kilometres from and are attending their nearest national school, and at post primary level where they reside not less than 4.8 kilometres from and are attending their nearest post primary school/education centre as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.
Children who are eligible for school transport and who have completed the application process on time will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation.
Children who are not eligible for school transport, but who completed the application process on time, are considered for spare seats that may exist after eligible children have been facilitated; such seats are referred to as concessionary seats.
The School Transport Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year, over 149,000 children, including over 18,000 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country.
There has been an increase of 21% in tickets issued to eligible students and an increase of 38% in tickets issued on a concessionary basis in the current 2022/23 school year compared to the 2021/22 school year.
In addition, school transport scheme services are being provided in the current school year for over 5,400 children who have arrived to Ireland from Ukraine.
The total cost of the scheme in 2022 was €338.9m.
Under the terms of my Department's School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs, children are eligible for transport where they are attending the nearest recognised primary or post primary school that is or can be resourced to meet their special educational needs.
Special Schools funded by the Department are intended to cater for children and young persons with special educational needs from 4 years until the end of the school year in which they reach their 18th year. At that point, the Department of Health/Health Service Executive assumes direct responsibility for young adults with special educational needs who are over 18 years.
Accordingly, the details referred to by the Deputy in this case is outside of the remit of the School Transport Schemes.