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