Class trips in doubt as teach­ers told they need li­cence to drive minibuses

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY RE­BECCA BLACK

A LEAD­ING schools body has warned that chil­dren could miss out on class trips af­ter it was ruled that ev­ery teacher who drives a minibus must be trained and qual­i­fied.

The Depart­ment for In­fra­struc­ture (DfI) wrote a let­ter to the Ed­u­ca­tion Au­thor­ity (EA) is­su­ing guid­ance that teach­ers must have a full D1 minibus driv­ing li­cence and driver cer­tifi­cate of pro­fes­sional com­pe­tence.

Barry Mulholland, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Con­trolled Schools’ Sup­port Coun­cil, crit­i­cised what he called “re­main­ing con­fu­sion” over the mat­ter. “Un­cer­tainty re­mains in that DfI also re­comYes­ter­day, mend schools and driv­ers should do their own due dili­gence,” Mr Mulholland said.

“Schools will want to know, if the law is ap­par­ently so clear, why they should have to un­der­take due dili­gence.

“DfI also em­pha­sises that for driv­ers who re­ceived their li­cence af­ter 1997, there is an ad­di­tional com­pli­ca­tion as buses man­u­fac­tured af­ter 2010 and built for 12 or more pas­sen­gers are likely to ex­ceed a spe­cific weight limit of 3.5 tonnes.

“That the ma­jor­ity of minibuses will ex­ceed the 3.5 tonne limit means that vir­tu­ally no one hav­ing re­ceived their li­cence af­ter 1997 will be el­i­gi­ble to vol­un­teer to drive such a minibus. This clause must also have im­pli­ca­tions wider than schools. With this re­cent in­ter­pre­ta­tion and re­sult­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion, it is dev­as­tat­ing for schools that teach­ers and other staff who pre­vi­ously vol­un­teered to drive pupils are now un­able to do so and many school ac­tiv­i­ties will now have to cease abruptly.”

Mr Mulholland, who speaks for the largest ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor in North­ern Ire­land, com­pris­ing 558 schools — 70 of which are post-pri­mary schools — said chil­dren would suf­fer as a re­sult of the con­fu­sion.

“The losers in this sit­u­a­tion are the chil­dren and young peo­ple who may now miss out on a wide range of sport­ing fix­tures, ed­u­ca­tional out­ings, Duke of Ed­in­burgh trips and other ac- tiv­i­ties which they nor­mally un­der­take via school minibuses, fa­cil­i­tated un­til now by vol­un­teer teach­ers in their own time,” he added.

“We un­der­stand that DfI is clar­i­fy­ing the leg­is­la­tion in re­la­tion to who can drive a minibus on a vol­un­tary ba­sis, but we are bit­terly dis­ap­pointed with the in­ter­pre­ta­tion that teach­ers and other staff are deemed to be paid driv­ers.

“Given the cur­rent pres­sures on school fi­nances, it is un­likely that schools will be in a po­si­tion to re­lease staff or fund the train­ing now re­quired out of their cur­rent bud­gets.

“This de­ci­sion will have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on gen­er­a­tions of our young peo­ple.”

a spokesper­son for the EA told the BBC the or­gan­i­sa­tion was work­ing to make the nec­es­sary driver train­ing avail­able to all schools from Jan­uary 1 next year.

In a state­ment pub­lished last week, the DfI in­sisted that the ma­jor­ity of com­mu­nity and vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions would not be af­fected.

A spokesper­son for the depart­ment added it ex­pected “the ma­jor­ity of or­gan­i­sa­tions in the com­mu­nity and vol­un­tary sec­tor will be un­af­fected, with lit­tle im­pact on peo­ple us­ing the ser­vices”.

The depart­ment’s on­go­ing con­sul­ta­tion on minibus driver li­cence guid­ance has been ex­tended un­til De­cem­ber 8.

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