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Watch: Free school transport to save parents €700 - but supervision plans dropped

Education minister cannot rule out "period of turbulence" at start of new system

Video: Jonathan Borg

Parents will save around €700 per child every year with the introduction of free transport to all schools, but plans for the service to be supervised have been dropped.

Education minister Evarist Bartolo announced on Saturday the conclusion of two agreements with transport service providers, one for state schools and one for church and private schools, ahead of the start of the scholastic year.

Under the agreements - which involves eight operators for state schools and 18 for church and private - operators will be paid directly by the government, with parents not having to make any payment to use the service.

In all, the education ministry projects that around 42,000 students will be using the service - an increase of around 60 per cent on the current numbers.

However, trips will no longer be supervised, as was originally promised in the Labour Party’s electoral manifesto, with the ministry opting instead for an app-based monitoring system.

Mr Bartolo said every vehicle would be equipped with an electronic reader which would notify parents, through a free app, whenever the child enters of exits the vehicle. The app will also have other functions which will be introduced gradually.

When the government put forward its proposals for the system in February, supervision was to be provided on a voluntary basis by teachers, who would be given an additional allowance related to their pay grade.

However, it was later revealed that teachers had shunned the call, forcing the education ministry to issue an external call for employees.

Mr Bartolo also could not guarantee that there would be enough vehicles to cope with demand from the start of the scholastic year.It’s going to be a big challenge because we have a limited number of vehicles and drivers available

Asked how the system would function were this to be the case, he said only that authorities were “optimistic” and would be doing everything possible to ensure the service was provided.

“It’s going to be a big challenge because we have a limited number of vehicles and drivers available, and in a short span of time, these transport providers have to deal with competing demands,” he said.

“I will not rule out initial turbulence until we get the system going, but I am sure that with the cooperation of all involved we will be able to provide the service.”

He said the new system would lessen the financial burden on parents, as well as reducing traffic congestion by getting more private vehicles off the road, which would also have environmental benefits.

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