Transport in Northern Ireland

4 mins read

The education authority has a legal duty to make free-of-charge travel arrangements for children and young people with an identified need.

Eligibility for transport assistance is set out in the Department of Education Circular 1996, (updated September 2009), a copy of which can be obtained at the Department of Education Circular 1996.

The education authority is not required to provide transport for children under compulsory school age, including reception, pre-school and nursery.

The education authority must make sure that school bus drivers, taxi drivers and escorts have enhanced criminal records checks through Access NI.

Statutory Walking Distance and Eligibility

Your child will be entitled to transport assistance if there is no suitable school within statutory qualifying distance of your home, or if they have been refused a place in all suitable schools within statutory qualifying distance from your home.

Children with special educational needs or disabilities

For children with statements of special educational needs, the education authority must carefully consider whether free transport should be included in the statement.

For example, this might be if they use a wheelchair, or if they have a medical condition or severe learning difficulty. The education authority will draw on medical and other advice as required. Children may be eligible on medical grounds following a recommendation in writing from a clinical medical officer.

Not all pupils with statements of special educational needs will have special transport needs, and they may not be entitled to transport assistance. The education authority will decide on a case-by-case basis.

If the education authority decides that your child needs free school transport, it will make appropriate transport arrangements. Transport is usually recorded in part six of the statement. This part of the statement is not legally binding. However, there is a general expectation that the education authority will make suitable arrangements for transport if this is mentioned.

You can find out more in Guidelines – Special Education Pupils – Updated January 2016.

The education authority also provides 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. The education authority doesn’t have to name your preferred school on your child’s statement if it believes that another (nearer) school would be able to meet your child’s needs.

Sometimes the education authority 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 named in your child’s statement, in certain circumstances you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).

If the education authority 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 – unless an agreement that you should pay has been previously reached.

If it’s agreed 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 its discretion to decide whether to offer assistance.

If your child does not hold a statement of special educational needs, please contact your local transport office.

If your child is eligible for assistance with transport, it is up to the education in your region to decide on the means of transport or other assistance that is necessary.

Find out more

  • Education Authority Belfast Region: 028 9056 4000
  • Education Authority North Eastern Region: 028 2565 3333
  • Education Authority South Eastern Region: 028 9056 6200
  • Education Authority Southern Region: 028 3751 2200
  • Education Authority Western Region: 028 8241 1411
  • EA Exceptional Circumstances Policy – Home to School Transport