School bus drivers set to push for higher-visibility school uniforms
School bus drivers in Fermanagh have launched a campaign to improve the visibility of school uniforms in rural areas.
Unite the union has said children in Fermanagh have been "left at risk" due to the "failure of local schools and the Education Authority to integrate reflective strips into uniforms and bus passes".
A spokesperson for the Education Authority (EA) said: "The Authority is fully committed to promoting and enhancing safe travel for all young people to and from schools and colleges across Northern Ireland and welcomes all efforts to support its on-going safety message."
In a bid to promote higher-visibility uniforms, Unite members will be visiting local schools to speak with representatives and promote a pilot 'safe uniform' initative.
It has said if this is a success, it hopes higher-visibility uniforms will be adopted across Northern Ireland.
Unite regional officer Gareth Scott said: "This is a particular problem for children living in rural areas where there are no street lights and unfortunately the threat posed is likely to mount if, as proposed in the recent Department of Finance budgetary briefing, street lights are turned off in all but key arterial routes and motorways.
"We need all schools and the Education Authority to be planning now for this eventuality. There really is no excuse for inaction. Reflective strips can easily and with little cost be designed into school uniforms and coats, reflective materials can be integrated into school bus passes."
In his comments, Mr Scott singled out Devenish College as one school which had adopted uniforms with reflective strips.
The college introduced the design seven years ago, with the strips woven into school blazers, and high-visibility material woven included in school scarves.
Speaking to the BBC at the time of their introduction, the college's then principal Mervyn Walker said: "The whole emphasis is to try to save lives.
"The blazers are slightly more expensive - roughly around £8 extra. But it's well worth paying that price if someone's life can be saved on the road."
Mr Scott said: "One driver recently told me that on even the darkest roads you could not miss a child from Devenish College from a hundred yards but those from other schools can be difficult to see until you are much closer."
NASUWT is Northern Ireland's largest teachers' union, representing teachers and headteachers in primary and secondary schools.
The union's national official for Northern Ireland Justin McCamphill said: "This proposal seems to be both sensible and practical as an initiative to increase the visibility of children and therefore their safety when travelling to school.
“However this needs to be done with the support of the whole school community including staff and parents. If any costs were to arise from this proposal these should be funded by the education authorities.”
Guidelines on school uniforms in Northern Ireland is given by the Department of Education, which states that rules on uniform are "not governed by legislation but falls to schools to determine".
Belfast Telegraph Digital