DE consultation gauges parental views on school transport

As reported by the BBC, the Department of Education has discovered via a consultation what parents think of school transport services

A consultation by the Department of Education (DE) has found that there is ‘broad support’ for parents to pay a charge for home-to-school transport.

However, respondents also said that they would expect for the service to be expanded if they pay a fee.

Of course, in the absence of a minister, no major changes can be made to the school transport policy.

Currently, pupils are eligible for free home-to-school transport if they live more than three miles from their post-primary school or two miles from their primary school.

About 84,000 pupils – a quarter of all pupils in Northern Ireland –currently benefit; this costs Education Authority around £81m.

Demand for free transport is expected to cost an additional £7m a year in future.

The current policy has not been altered for 20 years, which is why the DE is carrying out an initial consultation on whether it should be changed.

Over 5,500 people responded to an online questionnaire while government departments, school principals, politicians, charities and unions were also consulted.

“Across the board there was good support for introducing a small parental contribution in any future new policy if it meant keeping the policy criteria as they are currently or expanding eligibility,” the department’s summary of the consultation said.

However, that option was much more popular among parents not currently eligible for transport assistance than those who receive it.

Respondents to the consultation also said that families on low incomes should be exempt from any charge.

A full public consultation would have to take place before any major policy changes and would also have to be approved by a future education minister.

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