What is happening?
The Department of Education (DE) in Northern Ireland has launched a survey to gather parental opinion as they review the home to school transport policy. They will look into how it is funded and how policy-makers might make changes to it in the near future. This will have an effect on the day-to-day lives of parents and the children who currently avail of free transport to and from school.
Where is the survey being held?
The survey is hosted by SurveyMonkey. It opened late last year and will remain active until the end of March 2019. Following an analysis of the responses, a public consultation on the way forward will take place in early 2020. The DE says that “it is unlikely that any revised policy would take effect before September 2021.”
Clarification for parents on what the survey is asking
We sought further details from the DE after looking at the wording of the survey for a couple of the questions.
One question asks: “Do you think a future home to school transport policy should…” and gives one option as: “Ask some parents to pay a contribution to the costs of their child(ren)’s home to school transport.”
We asked the DE what they mean by 'some parents' and this is what they said: “…this is to reflect the potential for a policy option that would allow some groups of pupils to be exempt from a charge being applied for transport. However we would be too early in the review process to determine which group(s) of pupils could potentially be exempt under this option.” The parental contribution option may point to future means testing of parents wishing for their child to use home to school transport.
The option "some parents should be asked to contribute towards the cost" is given as a potential answer for the later question, "If a future Minister for Education decided that some of the funding for home to school transport should be used to increase funding for schools, which of the following options do you think would be better?” We believe the same clarification on "some parents" applies.
Another question asks: “If a future Minister for Education decided that some of the funding for home to school transport should be used to increase funding for schools, which of the following options do you think would be better?” One of the options to respond with is: “The number of pupils receiving free transport should be reduced by providing free transport only to the nearest school within your chosen category.”
With this possible answer, we sought clarification on what the DE means by ‘chosen category’. The DE told us that, “the existing six school categories as detailed in the current policy circular [see section 3.4]”. The six school categories are also listed on the DE website and are:
- controlled or other voluntary
- denominational grammar (post-primary)
- non-denominational grammar (post primary).
The DE further clarified that, “the current school transport policy provides assistance to those pupils who live more than the relevant distance (using the shortest route capable of being walked) from their nearest suitable school, or have applied and been refused a place in all nearer suitable schools within their chosen category of school. The distance criterion is three miles for pupils attending post-primary schools and two miles for primary school.”
Have your say
We are pleased that the DE utilises all opportunities to seek parent voice on important educational matters. As this is an issue that will impact directly upon parents in Northern Ireland, we strongly encourage as many of you as possible to respond and give the department your views.
We will follow the issue with interest and hope to provide a parent voice response to the consultation in the DE’s next phase.
Take the home-to-school survey.