Minister’s database rethink #POD 

Serious concerns, raised with the Minister for Education, regarding the proposed data retention period for the Primary Online Database (POD) may be allayed by a piece in today’s Irish Examiner

Parents, data experts and the Data Protection Commisioner alike have all been petitioning Minister O’Sullivan over many issues and worries regarding POD; including the excessive thirty year retention period for student data. 

It now looks like the Minister will be announcing that student data will be held until their 19th birthday. After that date, their information will become depersonalised and only used for statistical and analytical purposes (I’d like to see more details on this).

This clearly is a textbook example of citizens using democratic channels (official means like contacting the Data Commisioner’s office and unofficial channels like creating all merry hell on Twitter!) to highlight ill-conceived elements of a government policy (the introduction of POD). 

Data gathering methods called into question for POD (Primary Online Database)

The Department of Education is currently gathering data for its live Primary Online Database, POD. However, there are concerns that the methods employed to gather information may be in breach of data protection legislation.

Please listen to the excellent clip from RTE’s Morning Ireland on Thursday, 15th January 2015 discussing the issue with Dublin solicitor specialises in data protection, Simon McGarr.

Most of the data for POD is being submitted automatically by Primary schools, without parents’ permission.

Further information such as ethnicity, cultural background and religion are currently being gathered by schools. There is also the issue of what the information gathered will be used for;

In the longer term it is proposed that POD will also share data with the Department of Social Protection, the HSE and the NCSE, and other bodies, eliminating the need for many of the current data requests to schools from these bodies, for example in relation to vaccination programmes, child benefit claims, application for special educational needs.

So as a parent, are you reassured by the above statement from the Department of Education website?

As I type this, it is proposed that the information carried by the database will be held until the child turns thirty, although, as mentioned in the audio, Minister for Education and skills, Jan O’Sullivan has said she will look again, at this figure.

I have written to my daughter’s school including all Simon’s points. I’ve also sent a copy of the letter to the Department of Education, on Simon’s advice (over twitter, he’s really very good) and hope to pass on any replies I receive to the data protection commissioner.

Further reflections on the gathering of information for the Primary Online Database (POD) can be found on David O’Callaghan’s blog post entitled, ‘Thoughts on the Primary Online Database‘.

Where is the love, #buseireann? – Updated

Where is the love?  Bus Éireann school bus transport tickets. (c) parents & students.

Where is the love?
Bus Éireann school bus transport tickets. (c) parents & students.

Well for most students and their parents, this week saw the culmination of a summer’s work of purchasing school books, bags, uniforms, shoes and putting what ever’s left aside towards paying the voluntary donation now requested by most schools.
The last thing any parent needs is the worry or financial pressure of trying to get their child to school.
The new school term of 2014/15, however, has begun under a cloud of uncertainty as the new IT system commissioned by Bus Éireann to process details for the school bus transport scheme was dogged by glitches.
Although the software was apparently tested, according to a spokesperson from Bus Éireann, it failed miserably to process payments and medical card details from day one.
Bus Éireann, as has become their habit, first blamed the parents, their default scapegoat, for being computer illiterate. Before it was pointed out to the company that it was not the parent’s fault but the new software’s interaction with internet browsers;
‘ This new software requires compatible browsers and we ask customers to use Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer Version 9′.
(Bus Éireann, press release 27th August 2014).

Such was the chaos and confusion this week; a temporary helpline was setup to deal with parents’ unanimous query; ‘where is my child’s ticket?’
Speaking to the staff manning the lines earlier this week, I could tell they were tired and dejected due to not being able to achieve much.
In just three days between calls; the youthful, chirpy, ‘can do’ attitude on the other end of the phone was replaced by the embittered tones of a civil servant with 30 years service and no tea break.
I rang Tuesday to find out why I hadn’t even received an e-mail from the system since registering last April, I was informed there was a note put on my file and it would be sorted shortly.
As I had received nothing by Friday (even after engaging Bus Éireann on twitter, and being promised a second time to have an e-mail, still nothing) so rang the helpline again only to be told they would be working all weekend to try and get e-mails and temporary tickets sent out. Nothing received so far.

I have spoken to parents who have paid for concessionary seats and not received a ticket because the bus is full. Parents who have paid for a concessionary seat, got a temporary ticket stating the child is eligible for travel under the family medical card and told to go swing when calling up Bus Éireann for a refund.
Parents have told me they have temporary tickets with incorrect addresses, dates of birth etc. Parents upset after being told the school bus inspector has rung bus drivers to throw children off the bus.
School Bus inspectors unceremoniously dictating to parents where their child should be in school. School bus transport appeals that were inexplicably postponed till the end of September.

How much longer will civil servants in the Department of Education claim there is nothing wrong with this system? The same civil servants who refuse to deny or confirm whether they will go chasing parents for the full economic costs of school transport (€1,000 +) in the future! (as indicated in the McCarthy report)
How many politicians will speak up and fight for their constituents when the Dáil resumes?

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. You are more than welcome to share it. If you’re having difficulties with the school bus transport scheme please make sure they know about it.
Minister Jan O’Sullivan has passed all responsibility for this scheme to her junior minister, Damien English.
The e-mail address is

Go raibh maith agaibh

Update – We have managed to secure a bus ticket for our daughter. It took three months of e-mails, letter writing, petitions and phone calls but we got there eventually.

Please never give up on a cause, especially, if you know you are in the right.

Think €350 is bad, how about €1,000 per pupil on the School Bus scheme?

Wordle: McCarthy Report into School Bus Transport

The Department of Education and skills, Value for Money Report into the School Transport scheme, published in March 2011, took into account recommendations from the McCarthy Report, published 16th July, 2009.

An Bord Snip Nua was formed after the banking crisis forced Ireland into an IMF bailout. The troika insisted that ways were found to reduce public spending and the The McCarthy Report was hatched. It recommended the following in relation to the school bus transport scheme;

E.1 Reduce allocation to school transport (p71, part 2)

The School Transport Scheme is a major transport operation which runs every school day over a large number routes carrying 135,000 pupils to primary and post primary schools….the average cost per pupil carried is estimated to be closer to €1,000 per annum. The charge for post-primary pupils transported will be €300 per annum from September 2009, while primary pupils will continue to be carried free of charge.

The Group considers that there should be a much greater contribution paid towards the cost of providing the school transport service. Also, charges should be introduced in respect of the primary school transport system. The Group recommends that a charge should be levied, at both primary and post-primary level, at a rate of 50% of the full economic cost of providing the service. This would be likely to be of the order of €500 per annum per child. (An exemption for social welfare recipients would continue to apply).

This charge could be increased over time to improve the rate of cost recovery for the service.

Overall, the Group estimates that the levying of school transport charges as outlined above could reduce the Exchequer subsidy by up to €29m annually. However, if a new maximum family charge were to apply, this level could reduce to about €25m.

There is also scope to change the eligibility conditions for the general scheme by providing transport only to the nearest schools instead of the nearest school of choice. The Group also concludes that consideration be given to an eligibility means test to determine those customers who can/should pay the full economic cost (€1,000), rather than only 50% of that cost.

(McCarthy Report, 2009)

So there appears a very real possibility that measures brought into appease the troika by Fianna Fáil and propagated by the Fine Gael and Labour government, if unchallenged, may lead to families being forced to pay up to a €1,000 per child for a seat on the school bus. Of course this may not be introduced yet, there is a General Election in 2016 after all. But who’s to say these charges won’t be increased after that election? After all, promises made during an election campaign can be broken, sure isn’t that what you tend to do in an election!

School Bus Transport Scheme lacks Appeal #dail #backtoschool

Wordle: School Bus Transport Report 2011

Most utilised words in the School Bus Transport Report 2011, for which the new bus transport policy is based.

Government department’s spend loads of time and loads of money developing policies. With all this effort and expense you would hope, in this country, we’d have some of the most well thought out and fit for purpose policies in the world. I’ll let you be the judge.

We live in rural Ireland. Towards the end of the swinging sixties, the government realised that subsidised school transport was the only way to encourage mass second level school attendance. Fast forward over forty years and the transport scheme has become an ingrained part of rural life, as well as a key part of the government’s Smarter Travel Policy (a commitment for less cars on the road by 2020).

We also find ourselves living between more than two second level schools. Although the school bus passes our front door to one particular all-girls school (our school of choice), the Department of Education has deemed a mixed comprehensive in the opposite direction as closer. I have nothing against mixed comprehensives, I went to one my self in Dublin but it is not our choice of school in this particular situation.

Our only option was to appeal the eligibility to the Department of Education, which we did, in writing at the end of July. The appeals board only meet on the third Thursday of each month. In reality that’s two appeals meetings between the time in the summer when parents are told their child is ineligible for school bus transport  travel and the start of the new school term.

On contacting the office in Tullamore this week we were told that our appeal had been received, but, although the appeals board is meeting this Thursday, 21st August, it will not be looking into our case. It will have to wait till the end of next month. Our daughter is supposed to be starting school next Tuesday, 26th August. That’s one full month of waiting to find out if our appeal is or is not successful.

As I stated at the beginning, I’ll let you make up your mind as to whether it’s fair to delay a school bus transport appeal a month into the new school term. We are not alone in this. When I first became aware of this issue I began a petition on for all the families on our road affected by this. We have over 120 signatures. The Minister and Junior Minister for Education are well aware of this, believe me they’ve been telephone called and e-mailed.

If you wish to sign the petition and be kept up to date with developments please click here. If you have been affected by this issue please tell me or the minister, so together we can highlight unfair policies.

Go raibh maith agat