Home to school transport

The Education Authority has a statutory responsibility for the provision of transport assistance to facilitate attendance at a grant-aided school of pupils for whom fees are not paid and who are resident in Northern Ireland. This guide aims to help you navigate the transport application process.

All You Need to Know About Eligibility

Definition of 'Parent'

‘Parent’ is defined as:

  • The natural parents of a child, whether married or not.
  • Anyone who although not a natural parent has parental responsibility for a child.
  • Any person, who although not a natural parent, has care of a child. 

What is transport assistance?

The Education Authority has a statutory responsibility for the provision of transport assistance to facilitate attendance at a grant-aided school of pupils for whom fees are not paid and who are resident in Northern Ireland

Whilst the primary responsibility for getting children to and from school rests with parents; transport assistance is available for some children to facilitate their attendance at school.  Children with disabilities or special educational needs may get additional help.

Eligibility for transport assistance is set out in the Department of Education Circular 1996/41, (updated September 2009), a copy of which can be obtained at the link Department of Education Circular 1996.

The Education Authority must provide assistance with school transport where a child meets the eligibility criteria as set out in the above mentioned circular.  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.  The statutory qualifying distance as defined in the above mentioned circular is - 2 miles in relation to a pupil under 11 years of age and 3 miles in relation to a pupil over 11 years of age.

What is statutory qualifying distance?

The term statutory qualifying distance is a threshold which determines whether the cost of home to school transport assistance should be met by the Education Authority or whether it rests with the parent.

The term “statutory qualifying distance” does not infer that any pupil should walk this distance to school. The distance criterion is used solely to determine which party is responsible for transport assistance.

If the measurement from your home is over the qualifying distance to the nearest suitable school using the nearest available route, the Authority accepts responsibility for transport assistance. Where the distance is under the qualifying distance, the parent remains responsible for making whatever arrangements they consider appropriate to facilitate their child’s attendance at school. 

What is the nearest available route & how is it measured?

The nearest available route refers to the shortest walkable route which a child, accompanied as necessary, can walk with reasonable safety.  

The Authority's On-Line App assesses eligibility for transport assistance using a Geographical Information System (GIS) in conjunction with the live Land and Property Services 'walkability' network dataset to electronically calculate a definitive measurement from your home to the school using the most available route.

The route measured may include footpaths and other pathways, as well as roads.  If there is no such route, the Education Authority may provide further transport assistance.

What does suitable school mean?

The term ‘suitable school’ has a precise definition in legislation.  It is a school in one of the recognised (i.e. grant-aided) categories of Controlled, Integrated, Irish-medium, Maintained, Denominational or non-Denominational grammar or bi-lateral schools in any of the above categories.  For the purposes of eligibility for transport assistance the grammar stream of a bi-lateral school shall be treated as a grammar school and the secondary stream as a Post Primary (Secondary) School. No other definition of ‘suitable’ is permitted within the current arrangements. 

The categories of schools does not extend to take account of other factors such a range or nature of curriculum provided, proficiency at particular sports, relationship with Parish boundaries, or single sex or co-educational schools.  Preferences expressed on these or similar grounds will not qualify for transport assistance if an otherwise suitable school exists within statutory walking distance and the chosen school lies outside this limit.

What age will my child be eligible?

You are eligible to apply for transport assistance if your child is of Compulsory School age and in full-time education.

When a child reaches the age of four between 1 September of that year and 1 July of the following year, that child must begin education in September of the following year;

For example, if a child’s 4th birthday is on 15 September 2017, they are 4 years of age between 1 September 2017 and 1 July 2018. This child must start education in September 2018.

Where a child reaches the age of four between 2 July of that year and 31 August of the same year, that child does not have to begin education until September of the following year;

For example, if a child’s 4th birthday is on 5 July 2017, they are 4 years of age between 2 July 2017 and 31 August 2017. This child would start compulsory education in September 2018.

Transport assistance will cease to become available for pupils the incoming school year if the pupils 19th birthday is attained on or before 1st July.

What mode of transport is available?

If your child is eligible for assistance with transport, the Authority will determine what method of transport assistance can be offered.  In the determination of the most suitable mode of transport assistance to be provided the Circular para 5.1 dictates:

Transport assistance for eligible pupils can be provided by a variety of means including the issue of sessional tickets (commonly referred to as “bus passes”) for public transport, the operation of Education Authority vehicles, the hire of buses or taxis and the payment of car allowances.  In determining the most suitable methods of assisting pupils, the Education Authority should have regard to the interests of efficiency and economy as set out in Article 44 of The Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986.

The Authority must always utilise the most cost effective means of transport available to it.

Where there is an Education Authority (EA) Bus service operating to the school applied to, the Authority will always utilise available seats on that service before choosing another option.

Where does my child collect their Translink pass?

All Translink passes (Ulsterbus, Metro and NIR), EA and Ferry passes where applicable are delivered or sent recorded delivery to the school.  Pupils are required to sign for and collect their passes from the school office at the start of term. 

Where passes are applied for after the start of the school term, pupils are advised to allow 10-14 working days for processing.  Passes will continue to be sent out to the schools throughout the year.

No passes will be sent to the pupil's home address.

Does my child have to reapply each year?

Once a pass has been awarded for Years 1-7 and Years 8-11 the pass will automatically be reissued (roll-over) each academic year unless you change address or change school, in which case you must submit a new application form for reassessment.

Any pupil wishing to return to Year 13, regardless as to whether they remain in the same school or choose to move to a new school, must make a new application for September.

How will my preferences impact on transport assistance i.e. transfer stage?

Your choice of preferences at transfer will impact on your child's eligibility for transport.

Whilst parents must base their choice of school on their own preference, advice sought or given, or past trends  if transport is an issue the transport guidelines as outlined in 1996/41 Circular must be adhered to.  The decision regarding the choice of school is ultimately that of parents, however, in making their choice parents should be mindful of the requirements detailed in the Transport Circular. Failure to adhere to the Circular may invalidate a pupil’s application for transport assistance.

Can my child be collected/dropped off at the childminders/grandparents address?

Application for transport assistance to or from a Grandparents address, a Childminders or After Schools services will not be considered. While the Authority has a statutory duty to provide transport assistance for eligible pupils, this consideration is from the permanent home address to the school only.  

What if my child needs 2 passes i.e. Bus & train pass?

You will only receive one Translink pass either one Ulsterbus pass or one NIR pass- NOT both.  It is your choice as to which pass is more preferable.

What if my child lives in the Republic of Ireland?

Eligibility for pupils living in the Republic of Ireland is assessed on the same criteria as pupils who live in Northern Ireland, as identified in the Department of Education Circular 1996/41.  However, whilst the route measured will be via the nearest available route from your home to the preferred school, the distance calculated will only be taken from the nearest border crossing point on that route to the preferred school.

Click here to apply for transport.

What if my child doesn’t need the transport assistance any longer?

In the event of a pupil who is already in receipt of a Translink sessional pass or an EA bus pass, no longer requires their pass, they must return their original pass to their attended school or Local Transport Office.

What if I want my child to go to a single sex/co-educational school?

The categories of school as defined by the Department of Education (point 3) do not extend to take account of other factors such as single sex or co-educational schools. Preferences expressed on grounds of single sex or co-educational schools will not qualify for transport.

In determining transport the categories of school are: Controlled, Integrated, Irish-medium, Maintained, Denominational or non-Denominational grammar.  No other definition of ‘suitable’ is permitted within the current arrangements.

What if I want my child to go to a grammar stream within a school?

These are post primary schools which have a grammar stream approved by the Department of Education within the school.  The following rules are applicable for each school:

1. Lagan College

  • Pupils admitted to the grammar stream on the basis of ability, will be eligible for transport assistance provided that they live outside statutory qualifying distance, irrespective of whether there may be another category of grammar school within qualifying distance.
  • Pupils gaining entry on an all-ability basis will, for transport purposes, be treated in the same way as those attending other integrated post-primary schools, ie they will get assistance if they live outside qualifying distance and, have sought and failed to gain a place in any other integrated post-primary school within statutory qualifying distance.
  • Pupils who live within statutory qualifying distance from Lagan, and who wish to attend a denominational or non-denominational grammar school outside statutory qualifying distance, will be able to seek places in such schools, and receive transport assistance, without specifying the Lagan Grammar stream as their first preference.

2. Slemish College Ballymena, St Killians College Carnlough, St Patricks College Maghera and Holy Cross College, Strabane

  • Pupils admitted to the grammar stream on the basis of ability, will only be eligible for transport assistance provided that they live outside statutory qualifying distance and have been unable to gain admission to any other category of grammar school within qualifying distance.
  • Parents whose children obtain admission to the grammar stream MUST provide written evidence from the school that their child has been accepted into the grammar stream. This essential information MUST be submitted to your local Transport Office with your online application reference number; otherwise it will be treated as an application for transport assistance to the non-grammar stream.

What if I want my child to go to a Junior/Senior High school?

The general rules for transport will apply to the ‘Dixon Plan’ area in the Southern region in regard to attendance at Primary schools, transfer to Junior High schools at age 11 and transfer to Grammar or Senior High schools at age 14. Parents will however continue to have the right to express a preference at 11+ for a Grammar school outside the area and can apply for transport assistance as set out in the Department of Education Circular 1996/41.

What if I want my child to go to a school with a 6th form provision?

All pupils who attend schools without a sixth form and who wish to proceed to sixth form after GCSE level would have to attempt to gain admission in the first instance to any/all suitable schools within the qualifying distance in the category chosen before being granted assistance to a further away school at that stage. To provide transport assistance in year 8, in the event of a child potentially doing A Levels at the school would result in what would be termed by the Department of Education as unreasonable public expenditure. In such cases transport assistance will not be awarded.

What if my closer school does not provide the subjects/sports courses that I want?

The Transport Circular stipulates that the categories of schools do not extend to take account of other factors such as range or nature of curriculum provided, proficiency at particular sports, relationship with parish boundaries.

What if I want my child to go to a fee paying school?

Campbell College and Royal Belfast Academical Institution

Whilst Campbell College and Royal Belfast Academical Institution are voluntary grammar schools, they are referred to in the Department of Education Circular 1996/41 as Category B school as they require parents to pay tuition fees. The Circular advised that there is no obligation on parents to seek a place in these voluntary grammar schools within statutory qualifying distance of a pupil’s home. 

Pupils outside the statutory qualifying distance of, and who wish to attend these schools must, however, demonstrate that they were unable to gain a place in any/all non-denominational grammar school(s) within statutory qualifying distance if they are to qualify for transport assistance.

What if my child is moving home or school?

Be aware that a change of circumstances (moving home or school) may affect eligibility. 

Where there is a suitable school or schools within 2 miles (Primary School) or within 3 miles (Post Primary School) of the new address, written application must be made to this school or schools, and you must provide written evidence from the Principal of all nearest suitable school(s) that they did not have a place for your child/children.  Application must be made to the nearer schools prior to applying to a further away school.  RETROSPECTIVE evidence will not be accepted.

All written evidence should be forwarded to your local Transport Office with your online application reference number.

In the event of a pupil who is already in receipt of a Translink Sessional Pass or EA Pass, and is moving address, changing schools or changing details, the original pass must be returned to their Local Transport Office and a new online application from the new home address or to the new school. If the pass has been lost or destroyed then a duplicate of the old pass must be purchased before any new travel pass can be issued.  For details on how to obtain a duplicate pass refer to the LOST BUS PASSES section. 

What if my child is not eligible for EA Home to School Transport?

If your child is not eligible for transport assistance, this does not preclude them from availing from alternative transport arrangements offered by Translink.  

Children and young people enjoy the independence and value the sense of freedom that pubic transport offers, and Translink are committed to providing the best value fares for every individual.

Children aged under 16 are entitled to half fares on Translink bus and train services in Northern Ireland.  To facilitate this Translink provide a free ‘Proof of Age’ card which are available from any main bus or train station in Northern Ireland on presentation of a birth certificate, or passport, and a passport sized photograph.  This is valid up to the 30th June, after their 16th birthday.  A ‘proof of age’ card is not mandatory, however, they are recommended for any young person who may need to prove they are under the age of 16. On production of the card the child will be able to obtain a reduced fare of 50% off the full adult fare on local and Cross Border services. 

Young people aged 16 – 23 can avail of one third off a range of bus and rail fares on the production of a yLink card. For full details on yLink and discounted fares visit www.translink.co.uk/yLink.  This Translink yLink is a discount card that can be used up until their 24th birthday. yLink cardholders can also get discounts and offers on local brands.

A range of great value smart card options are available for both passengers under and over the age of 16. To find the best ticketing option for your child use Translink’s useful ‘Find the Right Ticket’ tool at http://www.translink.co.uk/Find-The-Right-Ticket/  or contact Translink on 028 90 66 66 30.

Is my child eligible for transport for a medical issue?

Assistance with transport may be provided for eligible pupils of compulsory school age on medical grounds following a recommendation in writing from a Consultant or Clinical Medical Officer.

Children already in receipt of transport assistance will normally be granted transport on receipt of written confirmation from a consultant, hospital discharge letter or clinical medical officer. 

In the case of a pupil who lives within the transport qualifying distance of a suitable school but attends a more distant school, the Authority will provide transport assistance to the value of the cost of transport to the nearest suitable school.

Where a pupil requires transport assistance on medical grounds as a result of broken limbs, will normally be granted transport for a maximum period of six weeks on receipt of written confirmation from their General Practitioner or hospital discharge consultant provided that they attend their nearest suitable school. However, if a pupil is not attending their nearest suitable school the Authority will provide transport assistance as determined by the Authority to the value of the cost of nearest suitable school only.

The Authority will not be responsible for the payment of travelling expenses for a pupil who requires transport from school to attend a medical appointment.

Do you know that your choice and order of preferences could impact on your child’s eligibility for transport assistance?

Last updated: 04/06/2019