Tuesday 11 December 2018

400 children with special needs awaiting places on school buses

Stock photo: GETTY
Stock photo: GETTY

Rachel Farrell

Some 400 children with special needs are waiting for places on school buses, despite the school term starting two weeks ago for many pupils.

Over 2,700 new applications have been made for children with special needs for the 2018/19 academic year so far, but figures obtained by Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne showed that 500 of them were still “being finalised” on August 31, dropping to 400 by this week.

Mr Byrne, who is the party’s spokesperson on education and skills, said he has seen an increase this year in parents waiting to hear back about places for their children.

“I have noticed a real increase this year and I’ve had colleagues say it too. Some schools are back two weeks at this stage. It’s not acceptable,” Mr Byrne told Independent.ie.

"When you think about it, not every student with special needs is eligible for the transport, they have to be in a special class or school and there aren't many of those schools, so it's a really important issue."

Mr Byrne added that he has heard from more frustrated parents after the question was published, with some describing the difficulties it has caused.

“It’s going on too long, its causing practical difficulties, and medical difficulties as well,” he said.

“As one parent said this morning it has a real effect on the quality of life for children with special needs who need transport.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills told Independent.ie that the numbers were similar to previous years.

"The Department is currently finalising school transport arrangements for approximately 400 children though applications continue to be received. The numbers of applications being finalised are broadly in line with previous years," the spokesperson said.

"Applications for SEN transport are received on a year round basis.  For instance, the Department have received over 300 applications for the SEN scheme since August 1st."

The Department added that they are in regular contact with Bus Eireann and have asked them to update families on the status of their applications.

"Where a new service is required this is will mean a procurement / vetting process while in many instances the school is also sanctioned to employ a transport escort and this necessarily takes time to put in place.

"By accepting applications year round, the Department can ensure that children with special educational needs receive the transport they require.

"The Department is liaising with Bus Éireann on a daily basis and have asked them to make contact with all families currently awaiting a SEN transport service to provide an update."

According to the Department, over 12,000 children with special educational needs used the school transport system in the 2017/2018 academic year.

The service cost almost €190 million last year for the 117,000 pupils transported in over 4,500 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools.

In a statement Bus Eireann said:

"Bus Éireann is very conscious of the challenges faced by parents awaiting Special Needs transport and we are continuing to work with the Department on a daily basis to source and provide transport where possible for all outstanding applicants. This is a priority and all resources are being utilised to try and ensure these needs are met.

"In recognising the challenges in dealing with the growing number of SEN applications, and large volumes received - particular during the peak summer period - parents may avail of a Special Transport Grant from the Department in the intervening period, until transport arrangements have been put in place.

"Bus Éireann apologises for any inconvenience caused to families at this time, but wishes to assure parents that staff are working hard to process outstanding applications."

Last week, Independent.ie reported on the case of 5-year-old Carlos Neeson from Mulhuddart in Dublin, who was “unable to start school” as he had yet to receive his place. 

Following the publication of the article, mum Tracy confirmed that Carlos would be picked up for school this week after a call from the CIE.

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