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Education news

Means testing school transport could raise £30 million a year

Providing bus passes to pupils costs tens of millions of pounds a year

UP to £30 million a year could be raised by means testing home to school transport, the Department of Finance paper has suggested.

More money could also be found by training fewer teachers, increasing university fees or ending Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMA).

About £63 million is currently spent providing free school transport for children, with almost one third of pupils qualifying.

An independent panel published recommendations in 2014 which included a suggestion that assistance be provided to those attending their nearest school only, saving £26m a year.

Yesterday's briefing document said home to school transport is provided free to around 90,000 pupils and the average cost per child, excluding those in special schools, is approximately £700 a year.

Options to reduce the bill include introducing a charge based on a model used in the Republic - "a policy change that results in pupils being eligible to receive assistance only to their closest school" - or means testing eligibility.

Examples include restricting free travel to those in receipt of free school meals or to households in receipt of Universal Credit.

"The extent of the income generated would depend on the approach adopted and the charging model used. For example, a reduction in eligible pupils of between 10-15 per cent could reduce expenditure by around £4-8 million depending on the method used to reduce eligibility," the paper said.

"The use of means testing could potentially reduce the number of eligible pupils by 50-60 per cent which could reduce expenditure by £25-30 million. Some options would require legislative change and it may therefore take 2-3 years to implement."

On university tuition fees, the paper said an increase would not raise revenue for the executive but would "provide additional resources for the higher education sector, thereby reducing pressures on the funding provided by the executive".

Fees for home and EU students are currently £4,030 per year. Options were published before the last assembly election which included annual fees ranging from £6,500 to £9,000.

There are also 17,500 young people from low income households who receive the EMA. Reducing weekly payments from £30 to £20 "would generate £3.7m in 2019/20".

In addition, about £800,000 a year could be raised by reducing the number of students on teacher training courses, the paper claimed.

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