Patsy McGlone MLA for Mid Ulster

 
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Patsy McGlone 23rd January 2017

McGlone: Education Minister Abdicating Responsibility over Threat to Free School Transport

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 Féin/DUP axis.

“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 afterwards.

“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.”

ENDS

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.