Belfast Telegraph

Axed Belfast school bus wins reprieve but future hangs in balance

By Eamon Sweeney

A school bus service that was controversially lost as part of cuts to the education budget has been reinstated for the new academic year.

Almost 40 children at Taughmonagh Primary School in south Belfast were facing the prospect of having to walk almost a mile to reach school after the transport was stopped.

The news only emerged at the end of the last academic year.

However, the service is expected to resume by the end of this month and continue for the rest of the school year.

Further discussions will then take place with the Education Authority (EA) to seek a permanent resolution.

The Belfast Telegraph had highlighted the issue last week.

Children from the Suffolk area of west Belfast have been attending Taughmonagh PS since 2009 after the local primary school shut.

Parents and staff at the school contend that part of the agreement for the children to transfer to Taughmonagh was an assurance that a bus service would be provided.

But, as part of the cutbacks in education, they were told that they were only entitled to a bus service to the school closest to them, which is Finaghy Primary School.

This year Finaghy school only had one free place available, and to rule out acceptance the children from Suffolk were also told they had to officially apply and be rejected before the reinstatement of the bus service could be considered.

In the interim period the caretaker at Taughmonagh had been using the school minibus to transport the children to and from Suffolk.

Otherwise, the 38 children, aged from 4 to 11, would have been forced to get a Metro bus from Blacks Road to the Upper Malone Road. However, that still meant a walk of a mile to finally reach their classes.

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford intervened on behalf of parents affected by the move. He welcomed news that the bus service would continue for the next year.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Stalford said: "I met with the Education Authority and they have agreed that the service will return no later than Monday, September 25.

"It will remain in place until next June, but there will have to be further discussions to make sure it is reinstated permanently.

"In this case it was having a very negative impact on a very isolated community who have already lost their primary school.

"It's not right that children and parents should be put in this position."

A statement from the Education Authority reiterated its position that the provision of the bus service from Suffolk to Taughmonagh Primary School was never intended to be a permanent arrangement.

It said: "The EA can confirm that children enrolled at Suffolk PS when it closed in 2009 were provided with transport to Taughmonagh PS as part of the closure arrangements. This entitlement applied only to those pupils enrolled at Suffolk PS at the time.

"The EA advised Taughmonagh PS in June 2017 that as all pupils eligible to benefit from this arrangement had now left the school, transport would only be provided in line with statutory entitlements."

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