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Cabinet

Changes to school transport scheme to be phased in with 'nearest school' rule to be abolished

For many years, parents have struggled with difficulties with the school transport scheme.

CHANGES TO THE school transport scheme are to be phased in over the next six years, Cabinet will be told today. 

Education Minister Norma Foley is bringing a memo today to secure approval for the publication of a review of the scheme, which recommends a number of key changes.

For many years, parents have struggled with difficulties with the school transport scheme due to capacity issues. There has been an effort to increase capacity by increasing the number of school buses and drivers.

Bus Éireann operates the School Transport Scheme on behalf of the Department of Education.

The service, which has experienced extreme driver shortages, has been accused of making the process highly stressful and confusing for families.

A total of 161,000 students use the scheme, with the review highlighting the environmental benefits of the scheme in reducing the number of individual car journeys and lowering emissions.

Cabinet will be told today that the rules of the scheme will remain the same for the forthcoming 2024/2025 school year due to the current challenges securing additional buses and drivers in the tight labour market.

However, in the period up to 2030, the “nearest school” rule is to be abolished, which requires a student applying to the school transport scheme to choose the nearest school to their house and reducing the distance rules.

Under the current rules, a primary school pupil must live at least 3.2 km from their school to qualify for a bus place under the school transport scheme.

This will go to 2km and then 1km, depending on funding.

A post-primary school pupil must live at least 4.8km from their school to qualify for a bus place under the school transport scheme. This will go to 2km, depending on funding. This will significantly expand the number of pupils who qualify for the scheme.

Prior to the cost-of-living crisis, the annual school transport scheme fees were €100 for primary students and €350 for secondary school students, and the cap was €650 per family.

However, the fees were waived for a year during the cost-of-living crisis and then brought in at a lower rate to reduce the problems of students claiming bus places but not using them.

The 2023-2024 fee for a primary school child is €50 and for a post- primary school child is €75. The maximum fee for a family is €125.

This fee structure is now going to be kept in place for the 2024-2025 school year, which will help families to cope with the cost of living. Families will be able to apply for tickets for the new school year when the Bus Eireann portal opens this week.

Hospitals 

Separately, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is update Cabinet that 17 of the 19 maternity hospitals are providing full termination of pregnancy services, as prescribed in the 2018 Act.

Services are due to commence in the final two hospital sites this year, ministers will be told.

Donnelly will also announce that nearly 200,000 women have availed of free contraception in the first ten months of 2023.

The Women’s Health initiatives reveals 198,000 women aged 17-31 have availed of it between January and October 2023. Over 2,400 GPs and 2,050 pharmacies are providing the service.

The minister will also outline that six regional fertility hubs are now operational across the country and are providing access to publicly funded treatment including IVF, ICSI and IUI.

The report sets out that 16 same-day ‘See-and-Treat’ ambulatory gynaecology (AG) clinics are fully operational with four more opening in 2024 and six specialist menopause clinics have opened and continue to expand to full capacity.

It also sets out that two Specialist Endometriosis Centres for complex care have been established, along with five regional hubs, as well as five new postnatal hubs are now open, giving women access to postnatal care in community settings.

Ministers will also be informed that a new National Perinatal Genomics Service has been established to ensure women have access to critical testing both during pregnancy, and in planning for future pregnancies.

Mother and baby homes

Meanwhile, Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman is due to bring a memo on the appointment of the Special Advocate for Survivors, who will function as an independent advocate for survivors of Magdalene Laundries, Industrial and Reformatory Schools and Mother and Baby Homes.

This follows a commitment made as part of the Mother and Baby Home Action Plan. 

Finance Minister Michael McGrath Finance will also bring an update on the implementation of the Action Plan for Insurance Reform to Cabinet, while Higher Education Minister Simon Harris will also bring a memo today outlining a number of measures to be taken in 2024 to improve adult literacy.

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