School bus review row: Green light for study is two years late, claims unionist
A newly-announced review of Northern Ireland's outdated school transport is two years overdue, it has been claimed.
The Education Minister has appointed a panel of experts to review the school transport system – which has been in place for decades but was last reviewed 17 years ago.
John O'Dowd said the system must be re-considered to take account of the requirements of young people with special educational needs.
"(They) are the most vulnerable in our local education system," Mr O'Dowd said yesterday.
The review, which was announced yesterday, will also look at the issues facing pupils living in rural areas.
Last month, South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan revealed that just under 1,150 schoolchildren from the Crumlin area travel to and from Belfast and Lisburn every day on school transport, at an annual cost of £794,764.
The cost has risen sharply since 2012/13, when it stood at just over £757,550.
The costs, which were released by the North Eastern and South Eastern education boards, were described by Danny Kinahan, deputy chair of the Assembly's education committee, as significantly higher than anticipated.
He has accused Mr O'Dowd of keeping his "head in the sand" around the potential savings an overhaul of the "outdated" transport system could bring – until now.
"While it is welcome the minister has finally launched a review, it is deeply frustrating that it has taken two years since the Ulster Unionist party motion calling for this was passed in the Assembly.
"The minister has had his head in the sand over the vast savings that could be made through bringing forward a new policy," Mr Kinahan said.
"The Ulster Unionist Party has long been advocating reviewing the system to see how it can be improved, particularly for those with special educational needs and children from the rural community in Northern Ireland," he added.
Many children across Northern Ireland depend on home-to-school transport. The system must be fit for them."
Sian Thornthwaite, a researcher in home-to-school transport, will chair the review.
Margaret Martin, ex-principal of Armagh's St Catherine's College, and Tony McGonagle, a former education welfare officer, will also sit on the panel.
Sir Robert Salisbury recommended a review of Northern Ireland's school transport policy in his report on school funding mechanisms published earlier this year. Among a list of 29 recommendations was a proposal for the Department of Education to look at the potential for some parents to pay for their children's school transport costs.