More than 56,000 unused places on school transport services last year

Failure to implement recommendations addressed must be addressed, department says

A total of €200 million was spent on school transport last year with the cost of services having increased by almost 17 per cent since 2011.

A total of €200 million was spent on school transport last year with the cost of services having increased by almost 17 per cent since 2011.

 

A review of school transport services has been recommended after it emerged there were more than 56,000 unused places on routes in the 2017/18 school year.

The Department of Public Expenditure Reform said the failure to fully implement recommendations made seven years ago regarding eligibility for the school transport scheme and the charging model for mainstream students needed to be examined and addressed.

A total of €200 million was spent on school transport last year with the cost of services having increased by almost 17 per cent since 2011.

The review said provision for students with special needs, who now account for 11 per cent of all pupils on school transport, was the driving factor behind rising costs.

Increased vehicle numbers

Half of the overall budget on school transport by the Department of Education is now related to expenditure on students with special needs.

“These increasing costs, particularly in special education transport, point to a need to examine the efficiency of the scheme,” the review stated.

It found there had been considerable increases in recent years in the use of smaller vehicles such as taxis and minibuses, which are most expensive on a per capita basis.

The review noted the number of vehicles providing school transport services had increased from 2,964 in 2003 to 7,041 last year, despite the fact that the number of pupils using the scheme had fallen by 14 per cent over the same period.

While almost 117,500 students availed of places on school transport in 2017/18, it found there was spare capacity of over 56,000 spaces on services across the country.

It said factors which should be examined were the mix of services provided by Bus Éireann and contractors, the mode of transport used, the capacity on routes and the geographic distribution of services

Reduction

Between 2010 and 2018, it observed that there had been a 32 per cent reduction in the number of eligible pupils, while the numbers availing of the service on a concessionary basis had risen over sevenfold and accounted for 27 per cent of all pupils on school transport last year.

The review said the change was due to the partial and non-implementation of recommendations made in a value-for-money report in 2011 regarding eligibility and a decrease in bus sizes.

“This calls into question the extent to which reform has been delivered and how aligned the scheme is in practice with the 2012 scheme rule changes,” it added.

On expenditure on special education needs in general, the review noted there was no central monitoring of the outputs and outcome of spending which amounts to €1.9 billion this year.

“It is not possible to assess if objectives are being met and outcomes improved,” the review concluded.

Given the increased focus on the provision of special needs education, it said it was timely to consider the development of an evaluation framework on how effective such supports were.

The review also identified that while the number of individuals registering for apprenticeships has been steadily increasing since 2013, they were still below target levels.

It found programmes for new types of apprenticeships, despite being led by industry after they identified skills shortages, were taking longer than anticipated to develop while employer take-up in some trades was slow and varied with economic cycles.

The average annual cost of a craft apprenticeship is €7,159 compared to €9,877 for a new apprenticeship.

However, it said a lack of detailed cost data made it difficult to properly evaluate the cost of delivering apprenticeships amid concerns of Irish workers reporting education in excess of what was required for their job.