Dear Ted

24th September 2004 at 01:00
The bus that takes our children swimming is falling apart and the speedometer doesn't work. The head says it's the only bus company we can afford. Should I make a stand?

Ted says

The faulty speedometer alone makes the bus illegal. You must take action, otherwise your own position will be hazardous. Safety is at stake, so put children's wellbeing first.

When in doubt, it is useful to think ahead to possible scenarios. Imagine the situation. The bus crashes into a wall. Several children are injured.

There is an inquiry, or a court case. The cross-questioning goes like this:

"Call the headteacher of the school. Can you explain why you used this bus company, even though you had been told the bus was not thought to be safe?"

"Well, er, you know, they were cheap and you've got to stay within budget nowadays, and it's not very far to the swimming pool, only a few minutes."

"Long enough to crash into a wall. Call the next witness, the class teacher who escorted the children. Can you tell the court why you carried on travelling in this bus, even though you had reservations about its safety and had seen that the speedometer was not working?"

"Well, I did report it to the head, but I was told the bus company was cheap, and I didn't want to make a fuss. I wrote to The TES, and they suggested it was foolish to take no action, but I never thought..."

"Responsibility for children's safety is paramount. I find you both guilty of negligence. You are hereby sentenced to spend the rest of your life feeling absolutely rotten about it."

Except that it would probably be worse. I'd suggest you lie down in front of the bus in protest, but its brakes would probably fail and you'd be squashed. Just refuse to go - and put your reasons in writing.

You say

You have no choice

The question is not "Should I make a stand?", but "What should I do?"

You could try pointing out that the issue of children's safety is paramount and, if that doesn't work, draw attention to the implications of any accident for the school (will parents want to send their children to a school that condones the use of defective vehicles?) and for your head personally (knowingly allowing the children to be transported on a defective vehicle). The problem may then be viewed in a different light.

Sharon Inglis, Staffordshire

Get the bus off the road

The buscoach company will have an operator's licence issued by the traffic commissioners for your region. A bus that is "falling apart" and that has an inoperative speedometer is illegal. If you report your concerns to the police and to your regional traffic commissioners, there is a fair chance they will inspect the company, and order the vehicle off the road until all faults have been rectified. They will also monitor that company - you should find the safety standard of vehicles used in the future improves.

Steven Maxson, Grimsby

A word in their ears

Operating a bus with a defective speedo is illegal, so it might be a good idea to have a word with the driver. If this has no effect, you should advise the head that prior knowledge of defects would make civil proceedings far more likely in the event of an accident.

Tony Ireland, Lancashire

Silence is deadly

Yes, you should. Not only are the children at risk, but you are at fault because you are aware that there is an unacceptable risk and are doing nothing about it.

You (and other adults using the transport) should make it clear to the head that the situation is unacceptable and lack of money is not a reason for putting children in danger.

Sheila Gibbon, by email

* Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Coming up: Edged out

"Like some other teachers of my age in my secondary school, I feel I am being forced out to be replaced by younger and cheaper staff. What can we do about it?" What do readers think? Email We pay pound;40 for each answer used


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