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Ombudsman for Children calls for action on school transport concerns

Problems with the current school transport system present a significant obstacle to many parents supporting their children’s Constitutional right to education, particularly in rural areas, according to the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, today (Thursday).

The Children’s Ombudsman made her comments on the publication of her Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science. Since January 2006 the Ombudsman for Children has received 55 complaints affecting 136 children.

Emily said:

“I appreciate that thousands of children travel on school transport every year, and many of them may experience no difficulties at all. However, we are hearing the same issues over and over again from parents and children from almost every county in Ireland. I feel it is important to put this information and my concerns on the public record. While my Office has received calls from a small number of parents in urban areas this is definitely a greater obstacle for children living in rural communities.”

Among the issues raised in the Ombudsman for Children’s report are: catchment boundaries and how the School Transport Scheme is administered; supervision on buses; and school transport and special needs. Emily added:

“One of the biggest issues which both adults and children have brought to my attention is the lack of supervision on school buses and drop-off points. Children have highlighted the fact that the school bus is a regular site for bullying. They are aware that they may be easy targets in an unsupervised environment. Because of ‘double tripping’, the practice of having one school bus do two school runs, many children are dropped at the school gate sometime before the school opens.

There is a lack of clarity between the education authorities as to who is responsible for children’s safety and supervision in these cases: the individual schools or the Department of Education.

“For children with disabilities, they perceive school transport as yet another barrier to independent living. Parents have told us of situations where school buses have not been fitted with simple pieces of equipment which would allow wheelchair users avail of the service. The children involved have had to rely on their parents to drive them to and from school.

“In relation to boundary disputes, complainants to my Office have highlighted the difficulty in obtaining clear information about catchment boundaries from the agencies involved.

“In most of the cases my Office has examined, the Department of Education and Science adheres to the official School Transport Scheme policy. The evidence from my Office indicates that the Scheme itself needs to be revisited. The last formal review was published by the School Transport Review Committee back in 1998, almost ten years ago. Ten years on from that report, problems remain. Many of the report’s own recommendations have still not been implemented. Furthermore, in this time Ireland has changed radically, these changes also affect the geography and demography of education. It is crucial that the School Transport Scheme reflect and keep up with such changes.

“In the coming weeks I expect my Office will receive more calls from frustrated parents who are trying to secure appropriate transport for their children in advance of the new school year. Just as children start back at school a new Oireachtas Education Committee will be formed. I hope that this new Committee will bring their energy and fresh approach to the school transport issue.”