Schools: Extracurricular Transport

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 18th October 2021.

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Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin 2:00 pm, 18th October 2021

1. Ms Ferguson asked the Minister of Education what assistance is available to schools to transport pupils to off-site extracurricular activities. (AQO 2578/17-22)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

My Department's home-to-school transport policy provides funding for transport assistance for eligible pupils travelling to and from school each day. Transport assistance is not provided under that policy for off-site extracurricular activities. Transport to off-site extracurricular activities is a matter for schools to organise and fund themselves. The Education Authority (EA) offers vehicle hire services on request and subject to availability.

The extended schools programme supports eligible schools by providing additional activities for children and young people outside normal school hours. That often takes the form of before- and after-school clubs, summer schemes and educational trips and excursions. Schools can use extended schools programme resources to meet the costs of those activities to ensure that all pupils can take part, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. That may include meeting the costs of travel. The programme guidance requires schools to ensure that there are adequate arrangements in place for pupils to travel to and from school for extended schools activities over and above standard home-to-school transport arrangements. Close cooperation with the EA's transport section is therefore essential.

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her response on extracurricular activities. St Columb's College, in my constituency, was delighted to partner with the Steven Gerrard Academy to add a new innovative course to its post-16 curriculum. It is a full-time BTEC level 3 extended diploma in sport. The course is to be run at a satellite site in Greysteel, where the necessary facilities are available.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Can we have a question, please?

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin

OK. The financial demands of travelling to the site four days a week is a barrier to the young people who are looking to avail themselves of the opportunity. Will the Minister look at the situation and put in place the necessary support so that those young people can access the opportunities that they deserve?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. I am aware of the situation, because other Members have written to me about the Steven Gerrard football course at Greysteel. The Vale Centre is not categorised as a school, so it cannot be determined to be eligible for transport assistance, nor can home-to-school transport be provided to the venue under the policy. As I said in the substantive answer, the EA assists with vehicles that can be hired. I will speak to officials about the issue to see whether anything can be done, but, as I understand it, it is not possible under the current policy.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

Has additional funding for school transport been made available through the education catch-up programme?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

If the Member does not mind, I will come back to him on that.