The Department of Education currently funds daily transport assistance to around 84,000 pupils at an annual cost of approximately £81 million per year.
In December 2018 the Department embarked on a review of the current home to school transport policy. The review is part of a wider Education Transformation Programme that is being led by the Department across a range of different areas. The review is considering a range of options to ensure a future home to school transport policy is fit for purpose and sustainable over the long term.
The Review commenced with a period of engagement that offered all interested stakeholders the opportunity to give their views about how a future policy might look. This process took place from December 2018 to June 2019 and involved:
- an online questionnaire on the Department’s website;
- public engagement events;
- facilitated focus groups with parents and children & young people; and
- engagement with organisational stakeholders.
In addition to the above activities, there is ongoing engagement with other government departments to examine the contribution made by home to school transport to non-educational outcomes in the draft Programme for Government for example, reducing air pollution, increasing the use of public transport and reducing traffic congestion.
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.
The Review Team are now examining in detail all the evidence that has been gathered during the initial engagement phase 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.
It is important to make clear that the review of the home to school transport policy is not about cutting the costs and depending on the nature of any revised policy, it is possible that there would be no reduction in overall expenditure or the number of pupils in receipt of home to school transport.
It is also important to highlight that any changes to the current policy will not affect pupils with a statement of need that identifies a special transport need.