The company that runs our school bus service has complained that a small contingent is ruining the journey for everyone else by shouting, calling names and throwing food. How do I tackle the situation and how far should I get involved if it's outside school?
As anyone who has ever been on a family trip to the seaside will tell you, trying to drive at the same time as stopping the back seat from rioting is no easy task. Multiply your passengers by 10, or even 20, and it's no wonder drivers' frustrations sometimes boil over.
Any fantasies you may have about only being responsible for your pupils' behaviour between 9am and 3.30pm should be put out of your mind. It may not be in school time, it may not be on school premises, it may not be fair, but the reality is that schools can't just look at the ground and whistle.
"The behaviour of this group will be compromising the safety of other pupils and playing havoc with the reputation of the school in the local community," says Paul Dix, managing director of Pivotal Education and author of Taking Care of Behaviour. Chances are you're not the only one the driver has complained to, and what they don't see, other road users will. "You need to nip this in the bud before the bus becomes a mobile advertising campaign for your school," Mr Dix adds.
The first step is to collect evidence about what is happening. Speak to the driver, or drivers, involved and make a written account of complaints. Speak to the pupils, making discreet inquiries at first if necessary. Sort the hearsay and presumption from the facts.
Talking to the drivers will help start to build a relationship with them. In the short-term, you may agree to put up signs about rules of conduct on the buses, or a mechanism for regular reporting.
There may also be scope for training drivers so that there is consistency in rules and expectations. This will help them realise that the way they handle bad behaviour can have a substantial effect on the climate on the bus.
You should also look at ways of taking the pressure off the driver, Mr Dix suggests. Are there other pupils who can keep an eye on what is happening? Can you enlist sixth formers, for example, to help calm boisterous behaviour?
Once you have established who the protagonists are, speak to them directly, says Geoff Hatch, sociology teacher at Joseph Rowntree School in York and secondary teacher of the year in the North of England in the 2008 Teaching Awards. Give the same message to parents and make it clear that offenders could be banned from using the school bus service and will have to make alternative arrangements, however inconvenient that may be.
If the problem continues, investigate again and follow through on your threat, banning the offenders for a specific period, making sure you can enforce it. At Joseph Rowntree School, members of the school leadership team (SLT) are on duty in an area where the buses collect pupils. When the ban is lifted, monitor behaviour closely for the first few days.
An alternative is for members of the SLT to ride on the bus for a section of the route to monitor and deal with inappropriate behaviour. "This also sends a positive and supportive message about standards and expectations to the bus company, the pupils and the public," says Mr Hatch.
A masterstroke would be to recruit monitors from among the more boisterous pupils, adds Mr Dix. "You may find that starts to change peer behaviour and allows pupils to understand that the freedom of the bus is balanced with responsibility for each other and for the school," he says.
Whatever you do, don't take the route adopted by one school Mr Dix came across. After buying a minibus from a neighbouring independent school, the headteacher "forgot" to replace the previous school's name with her own. Miraculously, her phone stopped ringing with complaints from the public, while the head of the independent school was stumped as to why his pupils had suddenly started mooning outside WHSmith.
- Gather evidence from everybody involved so you have a balanced picture.
- Speak to the offenders and make it clear that continued problems won't be tolerated.
- Follow through on any threats to ban the worst offenders from using the school bus.
- Enlist senior pupils to help enforce standards.
- Ignore it and hope it will go away - it can do lasting damage to your school's reputation.