Put yourself in driving seat

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Answers your leadership questions

As a young biology teacher with a new licence I am prohibited from driving anything with more than eight seats. This is proving difficult as any time that I wish to run a trip I will have to take an additional member of staff to drive the minibus. Other teachers are telling me that this is a problem for them also and that it is best to forget about taking trips out. What should I do?

This is a difficult issue for schools. Should they be taking their pupils out of school to learn in minibuses driven by teachers? The climate of accountability and litigation that we live in suggests it is not worth the risk. Often such trips are outside the school day and spill over into teachers' personal time. So why bother?

We know the educational value of such trips, perhaps from our own experience when we went on them as pupils. Also as teachers we see the sort of valuable learning that can take place - new knowledge, skills and a chance to cement relationships with pupils in a less rigid setting. The argument for such trips is compelling but the practicalities of running them are tougher than ever.

Tightening up on staff driving minibuses protects them and the pupils in their care. So if you are swayed by the principle to take trips out, what are the options? Clearly this affects other teachers in your school and there needs to be a whole-school response. This should consider the following options, all of which have financial repercussions.

First, hire a coach with a driver. This is probably impractical for many trips such as PE fixtures and residential fieldtrips with a few pupils. But it does take the pressure off teachers. Second, get another teacher who has a licence to drive a minibus to go with you. This is clearly impractical in most schools due to the cost and the impact on the classes that she misses.

Third, develop a school plan to get as many teachers as possible qualified to drive the minibus so that you can do what has happened routinely in the past. The situation is that teachers cannot drive a school minibus (a vehicle operated under a permit) until they are 21 although many local authorities apply their own regulations for their teachers. In the one that I work in teachers cannot drive a minibus until the age of 25 (or 23 if you are a qualified PE teacher). You are required to take a local authority test (costing about pound;40) to qualify you to drive a LEA school minibus. You need to be retested every three years.

If you passed your car driving test after January 1997 (and this sounds like you) then it takes a DVLA training course and a test to qualify you.

This costs about pound;600 as well as possibly the cost of covering your classes in the school day. Obviously as the older drivers retire, so more younger drivers will need to become qualified. That is why there needs to be a whole-school response with planning to ensure that the right teachers are able to become qualified. Local authorities can have a programme (not necessarily money) to support schools in this.

A fourth response is to build this into plans for your school's workforce remodelling and look at support staff in the school becoming qualified. The higher level teaching assistants andor study supervisers (employed in some schools to cover for absent teachers) may be a sensible option especially when the teacher going on the trip is not qualified to drive the minibus.

Even if they are qualified, on certain trips it would be good to allow the driver to focus on driving and the teacher on managing students.

Talk to your head and outline the issues and suggest a school plan is drawn up. This will need to take into account your lea's policy (if you are part of one) and the law (Croner's legal guide for schools is very helpful and may well be easily available in your school).You never know, she may ask you to lead the working group charged with responsibility for drawing it up.

Robin Precey has been in education for 31 years, the past 12 as head of Seaford Head community college in East Sussex. He is also consultant on the National College for School Leadership's New Visions programme. Do you have a school leadership or management question? Contact Susan Young at The TES, susan.young@tes.co.uk

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