The Department of Education has been accused of gross incompetence over the minibus driving licence rules.
In a letter address to MLA Justin McNulty, the Department ‘admitted’ to not having figures on how much it will cost schools to implement.
Mr McNulty has claimed that new rules are being imposed on local schools regarding transport for pupils and “no-one has worked out the financial costs”.
“A few weeks back I was contacted by a number of principals raising concerns about the impact these new regulations on licensing requirements for minibus drivers will have on already pressed school budgets,” Mr McNulty explained.
“I immediately made contact with the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education on their behalf.
“I asked if the Department were aware of just how much this new regulation would cost to implement in schools and if I could be provided with these details.”
He added: “Schools have to use mini buses for various reasons and often it is for teams and groups of students involved in sporting activities.
“The outcome of the new regulations is that either teachers or coaches will now have to complete an additional driving tests to gain a full D1 minibus driving licence and driver certificate of professional competence in order to drive their students from A to B.
“The process for attaining a D1 licence is both time consuming and costly.
“The only alternative, even in the interim, is to hire a coach from a private operator which is also very costly for schools whose budgets are already stretched.”
The Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education Derek Baker responded to Mr McNulty’s letter this week.
“Remarkably he (Mr Baker) admitted that the Department doesn’t know how much these new measures will cost schools,” said the Newry and Armagh MLA.
“The Department of Education nor the Education Authority hold this information.
“This is astonishing and screams of gross incompetence.
“Why would anyone introduce a measure without considering the financial implications of their decision especially when it impacts most schools’ ability to transport students both for curricular and extra-curricular activities.
“I am calling for a full rethink of this new measure. It will impact every school, but most probably it will impact smaller schools most.
“Common sense needs to be applied here and I would call for a pause on this process and for officials to re-think this nonsensical proposal.”