Department of Education review on school bus transport threatens child safety, parental choice and low-income households

230217JP1UNITE022Unite launches online petition challenging ‘sham consultation’ that fails to consider alternative options including increased funding for education services

December 17th: Unite Regional Officer, Gareth Scott, announced the launch of his union’s online petition opposing the current ‘Review of Home to School Transport’ consultation by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland.

“The consultation on school bus transport launched by the Department represents a serious threat to the right of children to an education. This sham exercise demands parents choose between charges for school transport, an increase in the distance for free school transport eligibility or restricting free transport to the closest school as opposed to the one in which the child is enrolled.

“Each of these three options are deeply concerning. Working parents and those dependent on benefits simply cannot afford to pay for school transport. School bus charges not only threaten to submerge households

already struggling to stay afloat but will undermine bus services in rural areas which are dependent on school children for sustainability.

“Increasing the eligibility distance will put children’s lives at risk. The distances involved are already unacceptably high but expecting children of five to walk even further than two miles to school and two miles back; or children of eleven to walk more than six miles a day is completely intolerable. Once again, it poses particular risks to those children who live in rural areas where roads are unpaved or unlit and where they are forced to share thoroughfares with heavy-goods vehicles.

Derry launch

“The last option threatens parental choice and appears designed to deliver structural educational reform in an underhand manner. Educational reform should be enacted openly in a way that allows working-class children the opportunity for advancement – using school transport to attack parental choice is not a progressive option.

“Rather than a fake choice between options all of which are predicated on continued austerity, Unite is calling for increased funding for education generally and for school bus transport in particular. We need to look at educational spend not as a cost but an investment.

“Unite is today launching our online petition against the Department’s ‘Home to School Transport Review’. Our drivers and members on school buses, on Ulsterbus, on Metro bus and on Northern Ireland Rail will be distributing materials as part of that campaign. When the consultation exercise ends at the end of March 2019, we want to be in a position to present the Department with tens of thousands of signatures in defence of free and universal school transport for our children”, Mr Scott said.

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