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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chris Andrews talks before he thinks

Just what is Deputy Chris Andrews up to? His grandfather was the man who took an axe to Irish railways and now he seems hell bent on finishing off school transport. Is it in the genes? He’s also related to comedian Dave McSavage but no one is laughing in rural Ireland. According to Deputy Andrews there’s plenty of cars in the drives of rural Ireland to take pupils to school and school buses should be in Dublin. He wants the school bus network scrapped in rural areas.
I don’t know when he was last in rural Ireland but I’d wager he doesn’t know that parents pay for school transport and under his government the cost has just gone up to €350 per child per annum and even then you’re not guaranteed you’ll get a seat. Poor Deputy Andrews, he knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. If Aer Lingus accepted payment of Deputy Andrews for a ticket and later told him that he couldn’t fly because some one else was allocated his seat he’d be furious and he’d be off to the National Consumer Agency. Of course this cannot happen to adults but it does happen each year to children trying to go to school using school transport.
Deputy Andrews represents a small urban constituency that you can walk across in 1 hour. There’s plenty of good schools many of them fee paying, does he oppose other citizens have as good access to schools or having the same choice. For many parents in rural Ireland sending a child to school means having only one school because if you live in a one school catchment area that’s the only place your bus will bring you to.
If your child has a special physical need in Co Wexford you have to travel. In the case of some pupils in Wexford town they must get a bus to Enniscorthy. That also means a voluntary helper must accompany. I know one such woman who spent much of her day sitting in a minibus driving the back roads of South Wexford lifting children on and off a school bus. I’ve met mothers who complain to me how little help they get from the state. I wish some of these women could meet Chris Andrews TD and if they could I don’t think he’d come out with such nonsense. Many parents in north Wexford commute to Dublin and rely on the school bus to bring their children to and from school. Many parents are not home till 7PM, I’ve been on the N11 at 6.30 and it is a constant stream out of Gorey. School buses are essential for children to go to and from school when parents go to or are at work.School transport was introduced alongside free second level education in the 1960’s. It was brought in so that distance from schools would not be a disadvantage for rural families. I wonder do FF backbenchers understand anymore what disadvantage is? 2 months ago they removed book subsidies from most parents, because few schools are categorised as disadvantaged in Co Wexford. Resource teachers are now to be cut money for resources and I could go on.
School transport is good value for money, if Deputy Andrews wants to save cash why not cut back on some of the Ministers for State and their entourage. Why is it that years after millions being shelled out for smart ticketing, Dublin is no closer the integration of transport tickets let alone the Luas lines that incidentally give no reduction for school children? I wish I had as understanding an electorate in Co Wexford as Deputy Andrews obviously has in South East Dublin, Just think of all the half baked notions that I could indulge myself in. Now there’s a thought!

8 comments:

Catherine said...

I heard this guy on the radio today and first thought it was a joke, couldn't be really seriously saying that the Dublin taxpayers are footing the bill for rural kids whose families might have not just one but - horrors!- two cars! And they have the temerity to expect that their kids get ferried to and from school by bus! I have no vested interest in this issue being a "townie" who walked to school and whose kids walk(ed) to school, but I would be very supportive of school buses for kids in the country. I see every day at work how the abysmal lack of rural public transport affects people and leads to social isolation, and Chris Andrews has a Bev Flynn-like brass neck to come up with a publicity-seeking stunt like this. At least in Dublin there's half decent public transport - dart, luas, buses - oh yeah, I forgot, funded by rural taxpayers!

Martha said...

Erm, rural taxpayers don't subsidise anything, as rural areas are net recipients of resources.

People have this wrong picture that urban areas cost more than rural. But the simple fact is that the school transport scheme eats up more tax revenue than the whole of Bus Átha Cliath.

Anyone interested in a discussion that actually tries to address these realities will find it here

http://www.politics.ie/education-science/39801-ff-proposal-slash-rural-school-bus-service-3.html

Joe said...

I think you're missing the point Martha, the schol transport system is run by the Department of Education as a mechanism to improve access to school from a town's rural hinterland. It is also designed to reduce disadvantage as a consequence. You must live at least 3 miles before eleigibility will be determined. For the priviledge of transport to and from school for the 167 school days parents will pay €350 per child in 2009.

On the unrelated issue of public transport You mention Bus Ath Cliath, I understand that their subvention from the state is one of the lowest in the EU. Bus Ath Claith does not provide school transport services.

Martha said...

Sorry, Joe, but I don’t think I’m missing any point. But I do accept the points I’m making are rarely heard, meaning that mistaken perceptions like Catherine’s continue unchallenged.

As to the facts of the scheme, it involves the taxpayer paying about €170m a year to serve about 135,000 children. This amounts to €1,260 per child, far larger than the €350 contribution now expected from parents. When you consider that expenditure per child in primary education is about €6,000, you can appreciate this is not an insignificant additional cost.

The concept of ‘disadvantage’ gets thrown around too easily here. For the past decade we’ve seen a massive movement of people into rural one-off housing. That represents a choice by people seeking a big house. Fine, that’s their choice. But its ludicrous to deem them to be disadvantaged as if, like Peig Sayers’ father, all they had to live on was the grass of two cows. I see no particular reason why someone in that situation should be insulated from the cost of their choices with money needed for people who really have an educational disadvantage, such as slow learners.

Incidently, you are right that Bus Ath Claith has one of the lowest subventions of any equivalent company in the EU. Its services are used not only by students, but workers, pensioners, disabled people and essentially anyone who needs to get about the place. The fact that we are spending twice its subvention just to get children to school must surely be a wake-up call that the massive social costs of unplanned one-off housing are starting to come home to roost.

Let me say, I think Chris Andrews’ comments were a bit misdirected and incoherent. But he is at least drawing attention (in a slightly ham-fisted way) to a problem that hasn’t properly registered yet in our consciousness. Apologies on the lengthy reply, but if I was to summarise it in one sentence what I’m trying to say is we need to be careful in throwing around the term ‘disadvantage’.

Joe said...

I genuinely think Chris Andrews is looking for a headline! He sugessted that buses should be re-directed to Dublin instead! I don't dispute fugures but if you compare the Irish spend in the areas of each heading you mentioned to EU average we come in well below since this government took office in 1997. AFAIK Comptroller has never found the School Transport Scheme to be wasteful.
The reality is that government ios about making choices and in the case of learning support which you mention they've never funded same to EU average and any suggestion that they will prioritise same will be met wiht cynicism, the budet 2009 removes book subsidies from schols outside of disdavantaged areas ie Rapid. In Wexford Town this means that no secondary school pupil will get a subvention this August regardless of family income! That is what happens when you translate an economist's theory into practise! Social services deal with people's needs, economies deal with their desires.

Catherine said...

Not to be coming in with more mistaken perceptions, but I do want to offer an opinion, having looked at the link helpfully provided by Martha to this debate on politics.ie. It is hardly a forum that actually tries to address the issues; rather it is a vitriolic nitpicking thread that takes quotes out of context and rapidly descends into personal attacks on anyone with another opinion. One contributor in particular seems to have entrenched anti-rural attitudes, and thinks everyone in the country does so from choice in order to live in a mansion. So I am a bit underwhelmed by what I have seen thus far on politics.ie.
As for this debate, my initial comments were a gut reaction and I hadn't done any research on the facts and figures so won't argue with the subsidy percentages etc., but I still assert that rural school buses are the lifeblood of educational equity in any society.
I started secondary school in the first year of free secondary education way back in the swinging 60s and am ever grateful. Otherwise my life and career pathways would have been very different, being the only child of a widow dependent on the state non-contributory pension.
The reality of schools in the country is economy of scale which means a huge catchment area for any single school, second level at least. To suggest that the buses are a luxury exploited by wealthy rural dwellers is disingenuous and unfair, and on a human level I disagree fundamentally with Andrews' comments. I leave the statistics to the economists and as you know what Mark Twain famously said ... there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Martha said...

Indeed, I’m not saying this Government’s priorities have ever been sound. We’ve had ten years of low taxes, with no particular care for what money went on. While in the end it wasn’t built, lets not forget that the Bertie Bowl was at one point a serious proposal.
But, in fairness, I don’t need a report by the Auditor General to tell me if the school transport scheme is a problem or not. The figures sort of speak for themselves. 135,000 children is about 17% of total enrolments (I worked out these figures for the politics.ie thread I linked above). The fact that at least 17% of our children are living in areas that its not feasible to serve with normal public transport is a sign of the predicted social time-bomb arriving just as our budgets need to be tightened.

I’m glad you mentioned the school books scheme, and agree that many people will be genuinely disadvantaged by its savage cutback. From what I see (http://debates.oireachtas.ie/DDebate.aspx?F=DAL20081126.XML&Dail=30&Ex=All&Page=37) the cutback saved €7.5 million. I, for one, would not shed a tear if that €7.5 million was raised by charging an extra €55 for every child using the school transport scheme (bar medical card holders who I think are exempt from charges in any event).

Yet who will get the public attention and sympathy? People on low incomes who genuinely could do with help buying school books, or people well able to afford their own transport but able to present themselves as ‘disadvantaged’ just because they choose to live in a one-off house? I’ve a sinking feeling that I know the answer to that one.

Martha said...

I've only seen Catherine's post now.

If you’re disappointed in the politics.ie thread, you can join the site and show us how you think it should be done. But certainly the thread does show that no-one can refute the plain facts of the matter.

To be honest, Catherine, all your post amounts to is saying ‘I’ve seen the evidence against my case, I cannot refute it, but I will persist in my opinions regardless’. That’s only going to comfort the converted, who will be delighted that folk are still willing to support them even when they are wrong.

Anyone else will see that that your assertion that ‘rural school buses are the lifeblood of educational equity in any society’ cannot stand up to scrutiny. Rural dwellers are more disadvantaged than folk in Myross? More disadvantaged than children with dyslexia? Or children with autism?

To suggest school buses are used by many people well able to afford to pay, and less in need of State assistance than people unceremoniously dumped out of the free school books scheme, is simply to state facts. There’s lies, damn lies, and pretending you can’t see the truth of the matter.