Almost a quarter of the pupils that attend St. Mary’s High School, Brollagh, have been refused public transport by the Education Authority just days before they started their new school year.

Concessionary bus passes were approved by the Education Authority (EA) in July, yet parents and carers of children that attend St. Mary’s High School, Brollagh, just outside the village of Belleek in Co. Fermanagh, were informed by the EA on Friday August 24, that their children's concessionary bus passes were being revoked. Now that the school term has officially started, parents and carers have been left with no safe way for their children to travel to school.

A demonstration took place on the morning of Tuesday September 4 at 8.30am. Parents, carers and children affected by the withdrawal of public transport walked along the footpath of the B52 route towards the school but could not complete the last mile due to a lack of footpath and the narrow, twisting roads of the rural route.

Chair of the school’s parent’s council, Jane Weir, was present at the demonstration. She said: “The route to St. Mary’s is not just unsafe, in my opinion it’s dangerous, treacherous even. We are hoping to challenge Gavin Boyd the CEO on the safety of the route he is asking children as young as 10 to walk along. We’d love him to come down and have a look himself and see what he thinks.”

Many parents have been left in difficult positions since the bus passes have been revoked. Those who cannot drive are relying on the goodwill of friends to bring their children to school or taxis which will cost £50 per week. Others have no choice but to walk the dangerous route.

Mother-of-four Diane Travers commented on her circumstances: “I have three children of school age, my youngest child goes to primary school in Belleek, she is not allowed into the school until 8.45am because there is nobody to look after her. I will have to take her with me to take my eldest two to Brollagh, which means she will be late every single day. I have a 12 -month-old baby so I will have to walk the road pushing a pram along with the three children. The school bus that was picking up my eldest daughter because she had a concessionary pass, is still driving directly past my house with just six children on it. Six children that are being dropped off at Brollagh going the same way that we’ll now be walking.”

Mother-of-two Fionn Travers commented on the adverse effect the situation has had on her daughter: “It was meant to be a big mile stone for my daughter starting secondary school but it has now been overshadowed completely by the worry of getting her there. We’ve had a lot of tears from her and her anxiety has gone through the roof because she’s worried about being late and making a good impression.”

Other parents are sceptical of the EA’s decision to revoke the bus passes. Bronagh Walsh commented: “You just have to wonder if this is a bid by the department to try to close the school. Our children are entitled to transport to school and to be educated within their own community. We are here this morning to support the school and demand that our kids can transport to and from school safely.”

A spokeswoman from the Education Authority stated:

“The Education Authority's priority is to ensure the maximum number of eligible pupils can access school transport for the start of the new school year and is only able to provide concessionary transport to non-eligible pupils when spare seats are available on its fleet of school buses.

“The number of pupils travelling on school transport routes will vary on a year to year basis and the availability of concessionary transport to any school cannot be guaranteed and parents are advised of this.

“ All eligible children have been allocated seats on services operating to St. Mary’s Brollagh from September 2018 and in the absence of any spare capacity the Authority is unable to provide concessionary transport.

“EA will conduct an assessment of the walking route; however, this cannot take place until normal school time traffic patterns are in place. The process for the assessment of a walking route requires a number of site visits and will take a number of weeks to fully complete.

“In the interim, it remains a parental responsibility for the parents of non-eligible pupils to make their own arrangements to get their children to and from school; and where parents do choose to walk it is reasonably assumed that parents will act responsibly and ensure their child is accompanied and that the pedestrian rules of the Highway code are adhered to.

“EA will update all interested parties once the assessment has been completed.”