Bus service to reduce school absenteeism under threat over funding

Children chanting during this morning's protest march for a school bus in Navan, Co Meath. Photo: Louise Walsh.

A pilot bus service in Co Meath, which has upped school attendance figures by 16%, is at risk of being scrapped over a lack of funding.

For the past two years, 54 second-level students have been bussed by a Local Link service from the Windtown area of Navan, which is deemed a 'severely disadvantaged area ‘under Pobal mappings from 2016.

However, the continuity of the service is under threat because the distance to Beaufort College is almost 1km under the 4.8km criteria required to receive Government funding.

Before the pilot initiative, run by Flexibus, was introduced, parents say that students who walked over 4km in the rain had to be given a change of clothes from lost property because they had arrived in school soaking wet.

The scheme had been funded by myriad grants, including through the National Lottery and National Transport Authority and the Navan School Completion Programme.

However, now those lines of funding have been exhausted, parents have been told the service will have to cease in June.

Parents say that since the bus was introduced, school attendance has increased and their children now enjoy going to school and learning.

Prior to the introduction of the bus, absenteeism in school was almost 20% and no student had a full attendance record, according to the chairperson of the organising committee and local Cllr Eddie Fennessy.

Now he says school figures show that eight students had full attendance record last year and attendance was up to 94%.

"When students had to walk the 4.7km to school and back each day, they often skipped school or left in second year and were wet, tired and hungry by the time they got to school, especially during dark winter mornings.

The Windtown area was classed as very disadvantaged in 2016 census, attending school regularly and providing young people with advantage will break the cycle of disadvantage in this area. Parents want their children to have an education and fulfil their careers and futures.

"Since the bus service started, students were collected from 7.30am each morning and got their breakfast at the school ahead of classes. While they waited for the bus in the evenings to bring them home, they enjoyed a bowl of soup and any help needed with their homework.

"Since the bus service was introduced the children of Windtown have undergone a cultural change. Education has become an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. It would be tragic for the entire community of Windtown if the government doesn't save this service"

Chair of the parents' council at Beaufort College, Sinead Kavanagh, said it was important that kids were school-ready every morning.

"Kids need to be arriving in school ready for the day. It's draining for them to be walking with heavy schoolbags in the rain for over 4km in the morning and back again that evening.

Parents have told me that their children have actually had to change in school for clothes from the lost property office because they were shivering in soaking wet clothes. That's not on.

"A 3km walk for any child to school is more than enough and this parents council is fully supportive of the parents in seeking funding of €57,000 they will need for a 72 seater bus to carry the existing children and 18 more next September," she said.

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