Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Questions (162)

Timmy Dooley


178 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Education and Skills the changes he proposes to make to the current school transport scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7650/11]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Skills)

The changes to the school transport scheme were announced in the 2011 Budget by the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and derive from a recommendation in the recently published Value for Money Review of the scheme. From the beginning of the 2011/12 school year a €50 charge, which applies to all eligible primary pupils, is being introduced to ensure that school transport provided for these pupils is fully utilised in a cost efficient manner. The annual charge for post-primary pupils will also be increased by €50 from €300 to €350. Eligible pupils holding medical cards and pupils with special educational needs will be exempted from paying the charge. In addition, the maximum family charge at primary level for eligible pupils will be €110 while the overall combined maximum charge per family is not being increased from the current rate of €650 per annum. Parents will continue to be given the option of spreading the annual payments over two instalments in July and December.

The changes to school transport provision under the Closed School Rule means that the distance criteria will be applied uniformly and equitably on a national basis. From the 2012/2013 school year, school transport eligibility for all pupils newly entering national schools will be determined by reference to the nearest national school, having regard to ethos and language. Existing eligible primary pupils availing of transport under the Closed School Rule will retain transport eligibility for the duration of their schooling, provided the requisite distance is met. Services under the minimum numbers, either single services or which are part of double tripping arrangements, will be discontinued. A pick up density of 10 eligible pupils in a distinct locality on a particular route will be required to establish or retain services.

From the 2012/13 school year, the use of the catchment boundary system will cease for all new post-primary children. Eligibility for all new children entering post-primary transport will be on the basis of the nearest post-primary centre or school. Existing arrangements will remain in place for existing post primary pupils for the duration of their schooling. Finally, new arrangements will be put in place with Bus Éireann on a phased basis for the operation of the scheme.

Given the major financial constraints facing the country, I cannot reverse the changes to school transport as announced by the previous government in Budget 2011. We all have to understand the legacy of economic mismanagement which the last Government gave to the country.