Teachers in Northern Ireland will no longer be able to drive school minibuses on a car driving licence, according to new guidance.
Teachers must now have a full D1 minibus driving licence and driver certificate of professional competence.
The guidance is contained in a letter from the Department for Infrastructure to the Education Authority (EA).
The body representing controlled schools said that the change is “devastating for schools”.
The clarification from the department follows a meeting between it and representatives from education bodies on 9 November.
The letter to the EA is from Tom Reid, the department’s director of transport strategy.
“Anyone who is paid whilst driving, or is driving a minibus as a consequence of their employment, cannot be regarded as a volunteer and must have a D1 licence,” he wrote.
“It is highly likely, however, that where a teacher is driving during school hours, on school business, where they are responsible for the pupils in their care and subject to disciplinary procedures, this would be viewed as either being paid whilst they are driving or driving as a consequence of their employment.
“As a result, under the current legislative framework, a teacher driving a school minibus will need a full D1 licence.
“They will also need the driver certificate of professional competence.”
While the letter said that the department would consider enforcement on a case by case basis, it also warned that anyone driving a minibus without the appropriate licence could invalidate any insurance cover in the event of an accident.
The EA have also advised that “schools will need to ensure their staff have passed a D1 minibus driving licence test and hold a driver’s qualification card,” to meet the department requirement.
A spokesperson from the EA said also said they were working to make the necessary driver training available to all schools from 1 January 2018.
However, as a contract for that training is out to tender there is no indication yet how much that will cost.
‘Devastating for schools’
Some principals had previously warned it would cost their schools thousands of pounds to enable teachers to get new licences.
The Controlled Schools Support Council chief executive Barry Mulholland said he was “bitterly disappointed” by the change.
“It is devastating for schools that teachers and other staff, who previously volunteered to drive pupils, are now unable to do so and many school activities will now have to cease abruptly,” he said.
“The losers in this situation are children and young people who may now miss out on a wide range of sporting fixtures, educational outings, Duke of Edinburgh trips and other activities which they normally undertake via school minibuses.”