Driven to distraction.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

AN Armagh pupil attending a special school in Belfast has been forced to miss over one month of school time last year due to a series of problems with the transport provided by the Education Authority (EA).

The catalogue of incidents has led to SDLP MLA Justin McNulty branding the EA's provision as 'shambolic' as he demands an urgent review of the service which is used by several local pupils.

Mr McNulty explained, "In recent months I have been made aware of ongoing issues with school transport provision for children with a disability attending Fleming Fulton Special School in Belfast.

"During the last academic year one child from Armagh missed nineteen days because of mechanical issues or the bus failed to turn up. I raised concerns with the Chief Executive of the Education Authority and was assured the bus would be replaced, and it subsequently was.

"However, the issue persists as just last week the same problem happened again. This same child has already missed 10% of her school days this academic year because of issues with transport.

"This is not acceptable. If children attending a mainstream school anywhere in the north missed 10% of their school days, there would be uproar.

And the Education Authority Welfare Service would be involved and rightly so. Why should children with a disability have to accept a sub-standard unreliable service? It's not on.

"I have written again to the Chief Executive of the Education Authority and called for an urgent review of transportation from Armagh to Fleming Fulton Special School and in addition to that I want to see a back-up plan put in place, so if a bus is unavailable because of mechanical or staffing issues an alternative provision can be put in place. This must be resolved as a priority.

Fleming Fulton caters for pupils with physical disabilities and learning difficulties aged between three and 19.

An EA spokesman said that since September 2017 there have been nine non-operational days on the route, of which five were due to adverse weather and four were due to technical or mechanical problems with the bus.

"In response to this unusually high level of breakdowns a replacement vehicle was assigned to the route from February 5 2018," he said.

"EA provides transport assistance for nearly 89,000 pupils on a daily basis. The authority operates its own fleet of nearly 825 buses covering over 1,500 routes every day and on occasion vehicles may be subject to breakdown which regrettably can cause disruption to school transport."


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