The current Government is failing families across North Cork with the lack of reform on school transport, according to Cork East TD, Seán Sherlock.
Questioning the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh on whether any reforms would be brought in on the scheme, Deputy Sherlock was told that a review on the scheme was initiated in October 2019 and has yet to report.
“We have been down this road before in reviewing a scheme that simply is not fit for purpose,” Deputy Sherlock said.
“The use of concessionary ticket models undercuts any confidence families can have in accessing the scheme. These are families that are willing to pay for tickets and are being locked out of the system by dint of a lottery”.
Referring to the urgency of the situation, Deputy Sherlock continued, “The Minister made no reference to the social distancing measures no required for when schools reopen.
“Tenders will have to be rewritten for school transport either through larger buses or more buses on routes, otherwise even more children will be without a seat to school come September.”
“We cannot wait yet again until August to see action from the Government on this. There needs to be clarity now, regardless of who the minister is going to be.”
In response to Deputy Sherlock’s query, Minister McHugh responded: “School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.
“The purpose of my 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.
“In the current school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, are transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.
“The decision taken by the Government to close schools with effect from 13th March 2020 was taken in the interest of protecting our pupils, their families, teachers and those members of the wider community and is one of the many measures taken to support efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
“On the 1st May, 2020, the Taoiseach announced as part of the ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’ that schools will commence opening on a phased basis at the beginning of the 2020/2021 academic year.
“The Department is currently working with the education partners and relevant stakeholders in planning for this phased re-opening which will be based on public health advice and which will put the best interests of our school population first.
“The operation of school transport services in September 2020 will be informed by the outcome of this planning for re-opening schools.
“In October 2019, I announced a review of the school transport scheme with a view to ensuring funds are being spent in the most effective way to meet the objectives of the scheme. Terms of reference and the scope of the review have been drafted and a steering group has been established.
“In parallel to our contingency planning for September, my Department will commence the necessary analysis set out as part of the review of the scheme previously and prepare a background paper for consideration of the steering group to inform further progress of the review of the scheme.”