Northern Ireland news

Calls for education minister to help avert bus strike, amid fears for pupils sitting exams

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong. Picture by Mark Marlow

THERE were calls last night for the Stormont education minister to do more to help avert next week's planned bus strike, amid fears for pupils set to sit exams.

Alliance assembly member Kellie Armstrong said parents across Northern Ireland "feel abandoned" by the lack of action by Michelle McIlveen.

Ms Armstrong said the DUP minister should have already "outlined contingency plans ahead of a planned strike by bus drivers" next week.

There are concerns there will be a complete shutdown of bus services across the north, after drivers voted for strike action in a dispute over pay. A planned strike last month by the GMB and Unite unions was called off after Translink made a revised pay offer.

But the public transport operator has now said the two unions have voted to go ahead with industrial action for seven days from May 17 to 23.

The action, which will include drivers, cleaners and shunters, could potentially leave 55,000 school children without transport for a week.

Next week will see pupils sitting the first summer GCSE, AS and A-levels held since 2019, with exams in English, Maths, Geography, History and Irish among those set to take place next week.

Ms Armstrong said last month she had called on Ms McIlveen to "look ahead to this proposed strike and outline to parents her contingency plan for those pupils affected".

"To date, there has been nothing," she said.

"Parents feel abandoned by this approach. The minister needs to confirm immediately what she is going to do to help parents and pupils, particularly those scheduled to sit important exams next week.

"It is not acceptable for her to simply remain silent any more. It is unfair to expect students to be ready to sit exams if they are unable to access face-to-face learning. In addition, many pupils with special educational needs have transport included as part of their statement of special needs.

"To not provide it would be a direct failure on the part of the department and Education Authority. It is unbelievable schools are having to inform parents and bear the brunt of frustrations, while the minister stays quiet."

The Department of Education had last night not responded to a request for comment.

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