Bus plans pass buck on safety, say unions

29th June 2007 at 01:00
UNION LEADERS have reacted angrily over proposals to give headteachers the right to punish pupils who behave badly on school buses but not to make the wearing of seatbelts compulsory.

They claim that the buck for school bus safety has simply been passed to schools and local authorities in draft legislation announced this week.

They also say it ignores major recommendations in the Assembly's policy review of school transport in 2005. However, plans allowing local authorities to stagger school start times to ease congestion during the school day have been welcomed.

The plans became the first draft measure to be introduced under the Assembly's new law-making powers. Codes of conduct will have to be drawn up by every LA in a bid to improve the bad behaviour of a minority of pupils on school buses.

But campaigners say they feel cheated, particularly the National Association of Head Teachers, which has championed school bus safety over the past few years.

Welsh director Anna Brychan said: "There is absolutely no mention of making it a legal requirement for seatbelts to be worn, or for the three for two rule - where children sit three to a two-person seat - to be made illegal, or for escorts to become permanent fixtures on school buses.

"Instead, the government wants to give local authorities and schools the power to punish bad behaviour on buses to solve the safety problem - that's just buck passing."

A review of school transport was undertaken by the Assembly's former education, lifelong learning and skills committee following the tragic death of 12-year-old Stuart Cunningham Jones on a school bus in 2002.

A later inquest discovered that pupils aboard the double-decker bus, which was taking them home from Cowbridge comprehensive school in the Vale of Glamorgan, had been misbehaving before the accident.

However, Ms Brychan said the new powers would not have prevented the tragedy.

"Punishment after the event would not have prevented this crash," she said.

"We are concerned that not all bad behaviour on buses will be reported or even proven under the new proposals."

Stuart's father, who campaigned for school bus safety after his son's death, said he was deeply disappointed that the proposed legislation had not gone further.

Brian Gibbons, economy and transport minister, said the proposals contained in the draft measure would create a safer travel environment and make for a more sustainable transport system.

But Alun Carins, the Welsh Conservatives' education spokesman, said: "These proposals are timid, vague and insufficient, and fail to address major safety issues."

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