Read advice to families in Northern Ireland about home-to-school travel arrangements at the start and end of the school day.
This subject can be quite complex. If you would like more information about transport between home and school, contact our Education Rights Service on 0808 800 4102.
This information does not apply to travel arrangements between educational institutions during the school day.
Education authority duties
The education authority (EA) has a legal duty to make free of charge travel arrangements that are suitable for children and young people where there is an identified need.
However, they can choose to make travel arrangements for any pupil, so your child may still be able to get transport even if they don't meet the criteria.
Statutory walking distance
Whether you child may be entitled to free home-to-school transport can depend on the distance from your home to the nearest 'suitable' school.
Transport may be available if:
- your child is of primary age and lives two miles or more away from the nearest 'suitable' school
- your child is of post-primary age and lives three miles or more away from the nearest 'suitable' school.
The two distances mentioned above are measured along the shortest walking route between the pupil's permanent home address and the nearest school entrance. This route should be one that they can walk with reasonable safety, accompanied as necessary. If there is no such route, the EA must provide assistance with transport no matter what distance you live from the school.
Eligibility for free home to school transport
The EA must provide free home to school transport for your child if they are of compulsory school age or aged 16-19 in full-time education in schools and further education institutions and:
- there is no 'suitable' school within the statutory walking distance of your home, or
- your child has been refused a place in all 'suitable' schools within the statutory walking distance mentioned above.
To clarify, they do not have to provide free transport to a school which is beyond statutory walking distance, if they consider there is a nearer suitable school.
This means that if there is a suitable school within the statutory walking distance from your home and your child attends a school outside the statutory walking distance, transport will be provided only where your child has been unable to get a place in any or all suitable schools within the statutory walking distance.
In order to be eligible for transport assistance you may have to apply to schools even when there is little chance of your child getting a place. If you child does not get a place at your first preference school, the second preference school is obliged to consider an application on the same basis as if it had been your first preference.
Your child would then be fully eligible for transport assistance to a suitable school outside the statutory walking distance.
The following types of schools are defined as 'suitable':
- Denominational or non-Denominational Grammar
The EA will not provide transport assistance for pupils attending non-grant aided schools.
Parents should note that, when the EA is deciding whether a school is suitable, they will not take into account whether it is a co-educational or single sex establishment. This means that if your child attends a single sex school outside of the statutory walking distance they will not be entitled to transport assistance if they could have been admitted to a co-educational school within statutory walking distance.
My child is of pre-school/nursery age
The EA is not required to provide transport for children under compulsory school age, including reception, pre-school and nursery.
Types of transport
If your child is eligible for assistance with transport, the EA will decide what means of transport or other assistance is necessary.
The types of transport that may be arranged can include:
- passes to access public transport
- contracted school transport
- private hire vehicles, such as taxis.
Transport does not necessarily have to be provided for the whole distance as long as your child does not have to walk the statutory walking distances mentioned above.
Transport will normally be provided in the most cost-effective manner. In addition to cost, when considering the type of transport assistance the EA should consider:
- availability and convenience
- the age of the pupil
- safety and comfort
- whether it would mean a very early start or late end to the school day
- the length and distance of the journey.
The education authority may also pay a travel allowance to the parents of a pupil where transport has been approved on medical or other grounds but they are unable to provide a suitable service.
Drivers and Escorts
The EA must make sure that school bus drivers, taxi drivers and escorts have enhanced criminal records checks through Access NI.
How to apply
Contact the EA for an application form.
The EA must publish their general arrangements and policies on home to school transport.
Children with special needs or disabilities
The EA should take any disability or special educational needs into account when deciding whether school transport is necessary.
Assistance with home to school transport may be provided for eligible pupils/students on medical grounds following a recommendation in writing from a Clinical Medical Officer.
If your child has a statement of special educational needs
For children and young people with a statement of special educational needs, transport is usually recorded in Part 6 of the statement. This part of the statement is not legally binding. However, there is a general expectation that the EA will make suitable arrangements for transport if this is mentioned.
The EA also provide transport for children with statements whose parents have not made suitable arrangements themselves. This may be because the school is difficult to access by public transport and the parents don't drive.
As a parent, you can make a request for your child to attend a particular school. They don't have to name your preferred school on your child's statement if they believe that another (nearer) school would be able to meet your child's needs. Sometimes the EA will name your preferred school on the condition that you meet all or part of the transport costs. This arrangement should be written into your child's statement.
If you do not agree with the school that they have named in your child's statement, then in certain circumstances you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).
If the EA names your choice of school in the statement and the distance from your home is over the statutory walking distance then the Board must pay transport costs. This is unless an agreement that you should pay has been previously reached.
If an agreement is reached that you will pay for transport, this agreement does not have to last for the whole time your child attends that school. The courts in England (where the law is similar) have said that if family circumstances change and parents are no longer able to make suitable arrangements, the local authority must use their discretion to decide whether to offer assistance.
If the EA names a residential school that is some distance from your home in your child's statement, they should provide transport or transport assistance.
They should also make arrangements for you to visit your child and attend any important meetings, such as annual reviews.
My child is not eligible for free school transport
It may be worthwhile asking the EA to provide free transport even if your child is not eligible, as they may do so if they wish.
The EA must also offer spare places on school transport to pupils who would not otherwise qualify. However, parents may be charged for these services and the place may have to be given up if a child who qualifies requires it.
For more information on what happens in your area contact the EA and ask them for a copy of the school transport policy.
How to challenge decisions about transport
If you have a complaint or disagreement about the eligibility of your child for home-to-school transport support then there may be action you can take. Details of any review or complaints should be published alongside the EA's home-to-school transport policy.
Normally, you can write to them and ask them for the decision to be reviewed. You should include details of your child's special education needs together with your reasons why transport is needed. You may also want to consider contacting the EA's Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Service (DARS) officer.
In limited circumstances, a decision to refuse to provide transport to school may be subject to legal challenge.
Independent review on transport
In 2013, the Education Minister launched an independent review of home to school transport. The panel examined whether the current policy was fit for purpose, sufficiently targeted pupil's needs and was consistent with, and supportive of Departmental policy objectives. The findings and recommendations were published in August 2014.
Useful documents and reading
The Department of Education issued a guidance for the EA, schools and parents about transport arrangements.
Further help for parents trying to obtain an appropriate education for their child is available from our Education Rights Service
Quick link to this page: www.autism.org.uk/transport-NI
Last reviewed: 18 November 2015