The school transport scheme is significant operation, managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the current school year, more than 114,000 children, including more than 14,700 children with special educational needs, SEN, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country, at a cost of more than €224.7 million in 2020. All children who are eligible for school transport, and who complete the application and payment process on time, are accommodated in school transport services, where such services are in operation. Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis only. They may be offered seats where capacity exists and after all eligible children have been catered for.
The Department recently commenced a review of the school transport scheme. Following commencement of this review in February 2021, in a detailed analysis and a report conducted by the technical working group in the interim period, the steering group recently presented me with its initial interim report, a report on eligibility with an examination of issues for mainstream pupils relating to the nearest and next-nearest school.
Following consideration of this report, I have approved the recommendation to maintain the scheme as it currently operates, pending the outcome of the full review, but with temporary alleviation measures to continue on post-primary transport scheme services. These temporary alleviation measures allow for post-primary pupils who are otherwise eligible for school transport, but who are attending their second-nearest school, who apply and pay on time, to access school transport. This will result in transport being provided for an estimated additional 1,800 post-primary pupils in the 2021-2022 school year, who otherwise would not be accommodated under the scheme. This arrangement will be in place for the coming school year pending completion of the full review of the school transport scheme.
The Department has engaged intensively with Bus Éireann in regard to the logistics for the safe operation of school transport services for the 2020-2021 school year. Based on public health advice, the Department provided for school transport scheme services for the 2020-2021 school year to fully operate, but with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place and with the rolling implementation of measures on post-primary services, as required, to provide physical distancing using 50% of passenger capacity-----