Call for Foley to provide clarity on school transport for 120,000 children

Foley under pressure as concerns raised that all children will not get transport

 Minister for Education, Norma Foley. File photograph: Julien Behal/PA

Minister for Education, Norma Foley. File photograph: Julien Behal/PA

 

Minister for Education Norma Foley came under opposition pressure in the Dáil on Thursday about the provision of school transport for every pupil who needs it when the new academic year begins.

Concerns were raised that the Government has failed to provide clarity on the issue amid fears that there is insufficient capacity to carry the 120,000 children who used school transport last year.

Sinn Féin transport spokesman Donnchadh O Laoghaire said there was very little clarity or communication with operators about how buses would be delivered given the hygiene and social distancing requirements because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He repeatedly called on the Minister to give a clear commitment that the same number of children as last year will be carried on school transport this year.

Mr O Laoghaire said most parents and schools “really do feel in the dark here” about whether the school transport scheme would carry the same number of children. “Or will parents and families be seeking refunds from Bus Éireann in late September?”

Ms Foley told him: “To a very clear question, I will give a very clear answer.”

She said “all children who are eligible for school transport and who complete the application and payment process on time will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation”.

But Ms Foley pointed out that all school transport services are reviewed over the summer months and “routes may be altered, extended or withdrawn depending on the number of eligible children who will be availing of school transport for the following school year”.

She said the closing date for payment of transport had been extended to August 4th.

Mr O Laoghaire also raised concerns about the capacity of small and older schools to cope with the social distancing requirements.

He asked if there had been or would be an audit “to establish the schools that need not just reconfiguring but additional space is needed urgently”.

Not every school had the capacity to convert rooms or enlarge them to increase capacity and additional space was needed urgently.

They “simply can’t do the act of the loaves and the fishes”.

He said Christian Brothers Schools from the 50s and 60s have extremely narrow corridors and rooms that are “nowhere near 80 or even 60 sq metres”.

He was concerned that the Government was “throwing in the ball” but then leaving it to school boards of management to work it out.

Ms Foley said there was significant and substantial resources of €75 million through the minor works grant for “schools doing what needs to be done on the ground”.