The Education Minister is under mounting pressure to seriously examine the criteria for access to the School Transport Scheme ahead of the beginning of the new school year in August.
Among those to highlight the plight of families in the local region, Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith again raised the issue in the Dáil last week. There, he outlined a series of problems which have arisen in recent years, particularly affecting families in rural and isolated areas.
While the deputy was rebuffed in his attempts by Minister John Bruton, he still feels there should be some dispensation for children attending schools, particularly where in some cases, the school bus travels by directly outside their home.
Appreciating a scheme cannot be designed to suit every family, he however called on the Minister's with responsibility to adopt “a common sense approach” to the issue and make use of the local knowledge available rather than relying solely on a centralised online process.
“While I appreciate that difficulties can arise with any general scheme that is dealing with rural areas, there needs to be an element of flexibility when it comes to our school transport service. Many families chose either to move to a particular area because of family connections or because they grew up in a certain parish and want to stay there. Those who have set up home in these areas would have been conscious of transport links to local schools, but because of recent changes in the administration of the School Transport Scheme, some students are no longer eligible for a place on their school bus”, explained Deputy Smith.
Dealing with cases where older siblings have been granted a place on their school bus but younger siblings are only being granted a place if they go to a different school, he said: “this is a ridiculous situation – there has to be some flexibility in these cases. Bus Éireann personnel, in delivering the service, should be allowed some flexibility by the Department in dealing with local issues.”
Criticising the use of Google maps in the online application process, the local elected representative said it had only served to add to confusion where distances are being measured using roads that are “not capable of carrying cars, let alone school buses. It is in this context that I’m arguing for greater flexibility for families. If older children have attended one school, younger ones should not be forced to go to another school to qualify for a school bus place,” he said.