The current home to school transport policy has remained largely unchanged for over 20 years. In this time period there have been significant changes in the educational landscape and the needs of children and young people. This, coupled with the challenging financial climate in which we are now operating, means that the Department needs to consider if we can continue to do things in the same way.
The Home to School Transport Review Project is therefore exploring if the policy is fit for purpose and sustainable over the long term. The review is considering a broad range of options and not all options would result in a reduction in expenditure or the number of pupils in receipt of transport. It is also considering how any revised policy could contribute to a range of draft Programme for Government outcomes, for example, reducing air pollution, increasing the use of public transport and reducing traffic congestion.
As any potential changes to the current policy may impact on the lives of parents, children and young people and the wider public, the review commenced with a period of initial stakeholder engagement which ran from December 2018 to June 2019. The purpose of this engagement was to offer all interested stakeholders the opportunity to give their views about how a future policy might look. To allow as many stakeholders to contribute to this process as possible a number of different engagement approaches were adopted. These included:
- an online questionnaire on the Department’s website;
- public engagement events;
- facilitated focus groups with parents and with children & young people; and
- engagement with organisational stakeholders including local councils, unions and political representatives.
A summary of the findings of this initial engagement can be found on the Department's website at Initial Engagement Report – Home to School Transport Review
In addition to the public engagement, there is ongoing engagement with other government departments to identify the contribution home to school transport has on wider societal benefits within the draft Programme for Government and whether increasing access to home to school transport could further contribute to these outcomes.
The next steps in the Review are to develop a shortlist of potential options that can be analysed in more detail alongside the development of the appropriate impact assessments. Before any option would be decided upon by a Minister, a full public consultation will take place to allow all stakeholders the opportunity to give their views on the best way forward. Only after this has been completed would a Minister/Executive be asked to decide on any proposed change in policy. In order to allow for sufficient time to be given prior to the implementation of any change in policy, the earliest that any revised policy would take effect would be September 2022-23.