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Policy published on special needs transportation 25 August 2010

A POLICY is being published to help parents of children with special needs who need transporting to and from school to understand their entitlements and responsibilities.

The Department of Education and Children organises and pays for minibuses and taxis for students aged 19 and under with special needs who are eligible for assistance to get to and from school. Minister Eddie Teare MHK

Some students are also provided with escorts, who accompany them to and from school. Last term, 83 students were transported to and from school, 57 of them with escorts.

However, although a policy has long been in place, Eddie Teare MHK, Minister for Education and Children, requested it be reviewed and made public as he was anxious to ensure transparency and consistency.

The policy, which is available on the Department’s website or on request from the Department, clearly sets out who is eligible for transportation and outlines the Departments’, schools’ and parents’ responsibilities, Mr Teare said.

‘The review has been conducted to ensure that all transport applications continue to be assessed consistently and that all students are treated fairly and equally,’ he explained. ‘It will remove areas of uncertainty.’

The Minister said:

‘Publication of the policy will hopefully aid parents who might not even know that help with transportation might be available or who may be unsure of their entitlement or who organises what on a practical basis once assistance is granted.’ Mr Teare said that the publication of the policy may assist parents in other ways, too.
‘In some cases, a student’s need is such that he or she needs to attend a special needs unit at a school outside the catchment area to receive the most suitable education and it was firmly part of our criteria that such pupils should be considered for Department-funded transportation. That hasn’t changed.
‘However, the criteria ruled that children schooled within their catchment area were not eligible for transport. Developments in schools’ facilities and in our understanding of how we can best educate pupils with very different special needs now thankfully mean that more children can be schooled within their catchment areas rather than having to travel quite a distance, but they may still have difficulty making even short journeys on foot or by public transport and their parents may not have the means to transport them.
‘The policy still states that students with special needs will not normally be provided with transportation if they attend their closest school or the school in whose catchment area they live. However, if it is submitted that students falling into this category require transportation, the Department has the discretion to make the arrangements and meet the cost.’

The Department has written to parents of all students in receipt of transportation, advising them their needs will now be reviewed annually, instead of every two or three years as in the past. Forms have also been simplified to assist parents in responding. Parents wishing to appeal a decision now also have recourse to the Department’s appeal procedures.

The Minister conceded that some parents may not have transport provided for them, as they have in previous years, as students’ circumstances may have changed over the years and they are no longer eligible.

The Minister said:

‘Making public our policy is not a move to save money, it is merely to ensure that parents are aware of their entitlements and responsibilities and that consistency and fairness are applied.’

PHOTO: Eddie Teare MHK, Minister for Education and Children, requested the review

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