Home to School Transport Policy

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 30 April 2024.

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Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin 2:15, 30 April 2024

5. Ms Sheerin asked the Minister of Education for an update on the review of the home to school transport policy. (AQO 372/22-27)

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

6. Mr Honeyford asked the Minister of Education whether he plans to review the home to school transport policy. (AQO 373/22-27)

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will answer questions 5 and 6 together.

A review of the home to school transport policy commenced in 2018. However, it was paused by the then Minister due to the pandemic and further suspended pending the outcome of the independent review of education. The transport policy supports other policies in the Department, such as those on parental preference and special educational needs.

My Department is considering the report published by the independent review of education, and work is progressing on an end-to-end review of SEN. Work is also under way on an action plan arising from the EA landscape review to include detailed consideration of the operational delivery of services such as school transport. It is important that any review of the home to school transport policy complements and can build on the outcomes of those work streams. It is in that context that I will consider the utility and timing of a new separate review of the transport policy. Given the very significant budgetary pressures facing my Department, I will also need to consider the affordability of any changes to the transport policy that would result in the widening of criteria to access transport provision.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

In the interim, while we await any new review, will the Minister commit to working with the officials in the transport section of the EA to apply a bit of common sense to some of the decisions about transport for children? I am inundated every summer with requests from parents who live just within the two- or three-mile criterion, parents whose children live three miles from their school but —

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

OK. We get the drift, Ms Sheerin.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

— not as the crow flies and thus are refused a bus pass and other people who are just outside the route. I would like to see common sense —

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

— being applied to ensure that those children can get to school safely.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I totally understand the frustration that the Member has articulated. I deal with those issues as well at constituency level. It is a heavily regulated area. There is legislation in respect of the criteria, and they are strictly applied within those parameters. I understand the frustration and have experienced it at constituency level, but it is a heavily regulated area of policy that the EA is responsible for. I refer to the earlier comment about looking at a review of the process in due course, but, given the budget problems that my Department faces, I will be heavily constrained in respect of what I will be able to do about wider issues in the Department, as well as that one.

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

I thank the Minister for his response. Approximately 35 to 40 pupils who live in the Moira and Magheralin area attend New-Bridge Integrated College. People choose that school because it is integrated and offers A levels and sixth form. EA continues to refuse direct transport links, citing transport policy, but, if those parents were to choose a grammar school, they would have a choice of six or seven schools. What is the Minister's assessment of the transport access for those who live in Moira and travel to New-Bridge Integrated College? What steps will he take to improve the options for those young people?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

The Member referred to parental choice when it comes to the schools that people choose to go to. A range of sectors is available to people. The Department has facilitated that, including through our home to school transport policy. I will look into the specific issue that the Member has raised in more detail, and I will write to him in that regard.

Photo of Cheryl Brownlee Cheryl Brownlee DUP

Will the Minister outline the costs in relation to SEN transport and taxi provision?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

It is significant. Assistance is provided to over 90,000 school pupils every day, including more than 10,000 who have additional transport needs detailed in their statement of educational need. Children with a statement of SEN follow a different process for admission to school. In the most recent financial year, 2023-24, taxi provision for special educational needs pupils came to just short of £34 million.