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Bus drivers hold tight to respect

Amanda Kelly conducts 100 children aboard a double-decker on the dreaded home run.

It's 3.25pm and our blue-and-white double-decker pulls up outside Coventry's Heart of England school ready for the daily run home.

As 100 high-spirited youngsters clamber aboard, I take several deep breaths and remind myself that the key to an incident-free journey is never letting on that you are scared.

Fresh from a new training course that aims to help bus drivers develop a less antagonistic relationship with their young passengers, driver Bob Wildman and myself, his assistant for the day, are ready to put the ideas into practice.

The time when the worst you could expect from kids on buses was a boisterous rendition of Ten Green Bottles have long gone. These days, drivers have to contend with missiles being hurled out of emergency doors to "gobbing" contests where children see who can deposit the biggest pile of phlegm on the upper deck floor.

"It's like the escape of the battery hens," said Bob, general manager of Mike de Courcey Travel, a bus company that transports more than 5,500 West Midlands and Warwickshire schoolchildren each day.

Last week alone he was faced with a bill of pound;3,500 to replace windows that had been accidentally or deliberately broken by pupils. The worst offenders are the 13 to 15-year-olds pupils. The problems almost always occur on the journey home.

But after two or three stops, apart from a suspicious hiff of cigarette smoke and a few discarded bottles and crisps wrappers on the floor, all appeared to be well on route 848B.

In accordance with our training, we are taking a firm but friendly approach, smiling cheerfully as the pupils pass by and showing them the same respect we would any other passenger. When one youngster tells me I am too short to work on a bus, I try and adopt the same sense of humour as one of Bob Wildman's Sikh colleagues who is regularly referred to by youngsters as "turbanator".

I asked some of the passengers why they think the relationship between school bus drivers and pupils is often far from rosy and answers range from "they are always so stroppy with us" to "they don't show us any respect so we don't show them any".

It was issues such as these that taining consultant David Harries was trying to address when he devised "The school run - a training programme for bus drivers". Over the coming months, thousands of bus drivers will go on the course in a bid to make transporting schoolchildren a less stressful experience.

"There appears to be a deteriorating situation with mutual hostility on the part of drivers and children," said David Harries. "A training approach will almost certainly not reduce serious offending because there is no evidence to suggest that this is down to poor driver skills.

"But it can help to handle that day-to-day low-grade stuff that often gets out of control."

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