Following criticism of the school transport system from St Mary’s principal, the Education Minister has announced a review.
Mrs Mary McCloskey wrote to the Minister a few weeks ago criticising the way children from Limavady were being awarded free bus passes to travel to Loretto College in Coleraine for their education because Loretto was still being treated as a grammar school, despite no longer practising academic selection.
Under current arrangements, if a child is awarded a place in a school that is further than three miles away they can get a bus pass, as long as it is the closest school of its type. However, they cannot get a free pass if there is a similar school within walking distance of three miles.
St Mary’s principal Mary McCloskey, had written to Education Minister John O’Dowd and the Stormont education committee to argue that as Loreto, like St Mary’s, is now a Catholic non-selective school, pupils from Limavady should no longer be given free bus passes to attend Loreto.
Now, Education Minister John O’Dowd has announced a review of the entire ‘home-to-school’ transport system. He said: “The current home-to-school transport arrangements have been in place in some form for several decades and have not been reviewed since 1996. The time is therefore right for this area to be looked at again in detail.
“I want to ensure that we are delivering the optimum service possible in all aspects of education here so that there is equality of opportunity and access for all our young people and every child is enabled to achieve to their full potential. Transport is a key facilitator in this vision.”
The Minister continued: “The review will inform a revised approach to home-to-school transport that is targeted at pupils’ varying needs.
“The review will also examine the issues facing those who live in rural areas.
“I have tasked the panel with undertaking extensive consultation and engagement with a range of people and representative bodies who have an interest in this important issue. It is vital that we look at the whole range of factors and views that are relevant so that any new policy is as effective as it can be using the resources available.”
The Minister concluded: “The Panel Chair Sian Thornthwaite and members Margaret Martin and Tony McGonagle have extensive experience in the education, transport and public sector arenas and I look forward to gaining the benefit of their experience and expertise as we seek to improve this important area of education policy and delivery.”