Changes made to the application process for School Transport four years ago are creating unnecessary stress to secondary school students and their parents.
That is according to the Minister for Employment and Small Business Pat Breen TD, who is raising the issue with Minister for Training, Skills and Innovation John Halligan TD this Friday.
“The introduction of new criteria for School Transport in 2012 failed to take into account the practicalities of living in rural Clare and now stressed out students and worried parents are paying the price,” said Minister Breen.
“Changes to the application criteria for School Transport were introduced in 2012. Prior to this the School’s Catchment Boundary Area was used to determine eligibility of post primary students for school transport,” explained the Fine Gael Minister.
“Under the new system, a pupil must be living 4.8 kilometres or more from the nearest post primary school to qualify for the bus service. The nearest school however is determined by the Department and free transport is offered only for that school. It takes no account of bus routes, schools which may be more suitable for people with special needs or other such practicalities,” added Minister Breen.
“For example, under this scheme, a student with a medical card who is starting post primary school will not receive free transport to school if they do not attend the school deemed the nearest by the Department of Education. The system does not take into account the fact that in some cases, a bus to another school may be passing the child’s front door, while the bus stop to the school deemed closet is in fact 6 or 7 kilometres away. There has also been a case where the school with the most convenient transport system for the student is the same distance from the student’s home as the one deemed nearest by the Department. To obtain his free transport pass however, he is obliged to attend the other school,” he said.
“This case is not unique. I have been contacted by parents who have similar issues from all over rural Clare. For example, there are also no allowances made for students with special needs wishing to attend main stream education. Often the closest school is not necessarily the best equipped to deal with a student’s needs, while another school in the area which is also accessible by public transport would be more suitable, but the student can not avail of the Free School Transport as it is not deemed the nearest.
“The School Transport policy is currently impractical and unfair to students in rural Ireland and needs to be altered to recognise the geographical and practical issues faced by families living in these areas,” concluded Minister Breen.