Driven round the bend;Talkback

14th May 1999 at 01:00
David Kibble calls for school bus trips to be supervised

Two bus drivers were recently given conditional discharges for failing to ensure the safety of the children. A traffic examiner had spotted children on the two buses, which were travelling in convoy at the end of the school day, standing on the platform near the front. One child was sitting with his back to the windscreen - which the examiner said was dangerous, especially as the front window of a bus is held in place only by a rubber seal.

In court, the prosecutor said the drivers should have stopped and asked the children to sit down. One said he had, but was ignored. The bus was nearing a stop so he kept going, arguing that to stop straight away could have resulted in an equally or more dangerous situation.

How can we expect a bus driver with up to 70 pupils on board both to drive the bus and control the pupils on board? Why is it that we do not allow teachers to take pupils out of school with anything less than a ratio of 1 to 15 and yet we expect bus drivers to be able to control pupils and drive a double-decker with a ratio of 1 to 70?

Anyone who has anything to do with school transport knows that carrying pupils to and from school can be a nightmare. An Association of Teachers and Lecturers survey showing that up to a quarter of pupils are frightened from time to time when travelling on school transport should not come as a surprise. There are fewer problems if the bus drivers are regulars and know the children. But large bus companies often use different drivers every week, making it difficult for the school and bus company to work together.

Many drivers find school bus duties stressful and sometimes intimidating. A pupil in Leeds recently died jumping out of a bus emergency exit - the driver was in the process of driving to a police station because of the poor behaviour on his bus.

Has not the time come to return to conductors travelling on buses carrying children? Or perhaps a non-teaching assistant from the LEA and attached to a particular route and school. These would be regulars who would know the pupils.

David Kibble is deputy head of Huntington School, York

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