SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has
criticised the Education Minister for abdicating responsibility for policy
following reports that the Education Authority are considering ending free
school transport. The criticism came in response to an Assembly written
answer to a question from the Mid Ulster MLA.
Mr McGlone said: “It appears that the
Education Minister is content to allow the Education Authority to use the
current political uncertainty to promote the idea that there are elements of
our children's education that it is acceptable to charge for.
“Following reports that the Authority
was considering ending free school transport, I asked the Minister for his
assessment of the introduction of such charges.
“His written answer contains no such
assessment. Instead the Education Minister has abdicated his responsibility
for policy and placed the onus for approval on his department in the full
knowledge that an Education Minister, or an Executive, may not be in place
for some time to come as a result of the recent collapse of the current Sinn
“I am gravely concerned that children
from rural communities in constituencies such as Mid Ulster will be hit
hardest if this decision is left in the hands of civil servants. Every
September my office deals with numerous school transport issues, both
secondary and primary, as the service is such a lifeline for rural families.
The majority of children in our rural areas live beyond the range to be
eligible for free transport- three miles for post-primary pupils and two
miles for primary pupils. If the Minister does not lay down a marker now
before the election those children may have to pay to travel to school
“In the absence of an Executive, or an
agreed budget, this is likely to one of many cuts the public can expect to
see implemented during any protracted negotiations resulting from the DUP
and Sinn Féin’s inability to work together in government.”
Notes to editors:
Written Answer AQW 9523/16-21 -
Ending Free School Transport
Mr McGlone: To ask the
Minister of Education , in relation to the Education Authority’s statement
that it is considering ending free school transport (i) what rural-proofing
exercise has been carried out in relation to charging for school transport;
and (ii) for his assessment of the introduction of such charges.
Education Minister: The
Education Authority (EA) is currently considering a broad range of options
to help it operate within its approved budget. Should they wish to progress
any options that would require changes to the current home to school
transport policy, any such changes would require the approval of the
Department of Education.
If the EA chooses to bring forward
any such proposals, I would expect them to take full account of the
potential impact on any families that would be effected, including those
living in rural areas, before I would study them in detail and come to a
view on the proposals. Of course, any change to current policy would be
subject to the normal Equality Impact Assessment and consultation processes.