School transport report published

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A report has recommended the state should continue to assume some responsibility for home to school transport, but only to the nearest school to the child’s home.

Education Minister John O’Dowd published the independent review of home to school transport chaired by transport consultant Dr Sian Thornthwaite.

At present if the nearest school is more than two miles (primary) or three miles (secondary) from home, pupils can choose to attend any school in that category over the distance, supported by state transport.

There is no maximum distance.

This means less than a quarter of post-primary school pupils attend their nearest school.

Only 12% of grammar school pupils do.

The report noted: “Journeys are, therefore, long. Post-primary school journeys are on average nearly three miles longer than those in the rest of the UK.

“Journeys to grammar schools are, on average, more than six miles each way.”

The estimated cost to the Department of Education of supporting pupils’ journey to school is predicted to exceed £100 million by 2019/20 (including support from other government departments for school travel the total is expected to rise to approximately £133 million).

Other jurisdictions’ home to school transport policies support relatively limited choice. Northern Ireland is unusual in the extensive school choice supported, the complexity of its school transport system and consequently high levels of entitlement and expenditure, Dr Thornthwaite added.

Mr O’Dowd said: “I want to ensure that we are delivering the optimum service possible in all aspects of education here so that there is equality of opportunity and access for all our young people and every child is enabled to achieve to their full potential.”