School Transport Schemes Need To Be Fair – Ombudsman For Children

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, has today (Monday), published School Transport In Focus, a report outlining a number of cases where the administration of school transport was not in the best interests of the children involved.

Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children stated:

“In our report, School Transport In Focus, we look at school transport as a children’s rights issue. Every child in Ireland has a right to an education and the availability of transport to school can be a critical component to realise that right.

“There are three schemes that families can apply for in order to access school transport for their children; one for primary schools, one for secondary schools and one for children with special educational needs. We are aware that currently, school transport schemes accommodate over 116,000 children and this includes 12,000 children with special needs. For the majority of these children these schemes work well and children are successfully transported in and out of school each day. However, for some of the most vulnerable children, such as those with disabilities and complex needs, improvements could we made.

“In this report, we focus on the school transport scheme for children with special educational needs.

“Based on complaints we have received over a number of years, it became clear that the administration of this scheme was, in some cases negatively impacting the children involved. For these children, their situation may not have changed had the OCO not been involved, which is of concern to us. We also identified a particular problem with the appeals mechanism in place where applications for school transport were refused.

“The case studies included in this report illustrate circumstances where greater flexibility is necessary within the school transport schemes for children with special educational needs and for those with disabilities or complex needs.

“It was also of concern to us that of the 414 appeals made between 2014 and 2016 to the School Transport Appeals Board (STAB), none of these were upheld. Parents and guardians have told us they felt STAB’s appeals process is futile and that they are a body that merely ‘rubber stamps’ decisions already made.

“As part of the Programme for Government, STAB’s criteria and guidelines were reviewed earlier this year. We were happy to share our views in relation to the operation of STAB, the access parents and guardians have to the decision makers and the level of communication about school transport decisions.

“The review is now complete and while a number of positive recommendations were made, including the introduction of a new online appeals process, we await the full implementation of these initiatives.

“In their response to this report the Department of Education and Skills told us that they have commenced a review of best practice in relation to the provision of school transport to children with special educational needs and that the findings of our work will inform this review. I warmly welcome this initiative by the Department and hope that it will involve the children and families, and that the outcome will greatly improve the administration of the scheme for the benefit of children.

“We are also encouraged by recent commitments from STAB to make themselves more accessible to people making appeals, to ensure that all unsuccessful applicants know of their right to appeal, to reduce delays in dealing with appeals and to explain the rationale for decisions to those making appeals. All of which are positive steps that should improve their role.

“Education is about more than literacy and numeracy; it is also about developing a child’s personality and talents, and preparing children for an active role in society. It is therefore essential that children of all abilities are enabled to travel to school and the operation of school transport schemes should support this.”

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