As the old saying goes, you wait ages for a bus and then two or three come along at once. My personal experience in the late 70s waiting for a 92 Service to convey me to Hall Green College in Birmingham seemed to support this belief! 40 years later and they still come along in multiples, now it’s school transport audits. We’ve not completed a school audit for quite a while, and then three come along in quick succession!
It would be inappropriate to name names but suffice to say not every public school has yet grasped the magnitude of the task they undertake when operating minibuses. All establishments focus on academia with limited comprehension of the enormous responsibilities associated with operating vehicles.
No motor insurance (inappropriate cover); unlicensed drivers (Cat B only) and an expired MOT were amongst the more serious issues we highlighted. I wonder if the parents who are paying substantive amounts for their child’s education would think twice about purchasing education from a provider if they knew their child was at risk when on school transport? You’d not select a decorator who was great at applying emulsion, but didn’t have a steady enough hand to skilfully apply gloss paint with nice defined edges; so why do parents select a school on a limited set of criteria, when the activity that has best opportunity to harm their child is not considered? A serious case of “Didn’t think about that” I guess.
Vehicles are my bread and butter, so I’ve always been happy to be “That parent” who embarrasses junior by undertaking my own Pre-Use inspection of the coach hired in for a school trip. I thoroughly recommend it!
State schools are not perfect either. Whilst at Surrey County Council I had numerous telephone conversations with Headteachers who had worked out how to “get around the rules”. Presumably some rules are to be adhered to whilst others are not, particularly if those rules make your job more difficult.
I do understand. It all comes down to money. We’ve all been adjusting budgets for years; it goes on in good times and bad. The primary function of a school is of course, to educate so peripheral activities are always vulnerable to cost-cutting and may never get noticed. Until that is, something has gone dreadfully wrong. Who knew? The school is a respected academic institute of high repute. Of course they do everything correctly! As outlined above, some do not. I don’t usually quote myself, preferring to use the words of those more inspiring than I, but on this occasion, I believe that one of my ramblings (paraphrased) from my years managing vehicle fleets is very appropriate. “If we can’t do it properly, we’ll not do it at all”. If budgets are cut in safety related activities, there must be a heightened risk that the ultimate outcome may be an uncomfortable session giving evidence at a Coroners’ Court. If the loss of life doesn’t make decision makers fidget in their seats, perhaps the inevitable news headlines and loss of revenue might focus their thoughts? If you can’t operate your minibuses safely, don’t bother! Hire in transport when you need it.
What does an exemplary school minibus operation look like?
Drivers –Hold D or D1 entitlement. Licence check at the commencement of each term. Contractual obligation to report licence issues (penalty points etc) or health issues.
Driving Standards – External Fleet Assessor to review drivers’ performance at set frequencies.
Drivers’ Hours -If the working day is going to be too long – source an external transport provider or manage a change of driver.
Health and Eyesight – Compulsory health and eyesight check mandatory on a frequent basis.
CPD – D or D1 holders will be undertaking CPC training. Supplement with refresher training such as mock theory test questions.
Alertness – Can a member of staff really function well in a minibus if they have already been on site for many hours? Manage appropriately the expected duties of any person who will drive throughout the working day. If a teacher is thinking about the lesson plan they’ve not had chance to complete, will they be able to focus 100% on driving?
Escorts – If the students conveyed are incapable of good behaviour in transit, an Escort Staff member should travel with the party and be responsible for the students. (Not to sit with the driver and chat!).
Staff Induction All staff on transport to undergo an induction process to ensure they fully understand their responsibilities – health / alcohol / drugs / hydration / calm attitude / defensive driving / driving distracted / mobile communications – not acceptable when mobile / earphones / It’s not “just driving” it’s a mega responsibility.
All staff required to report inappropriate actions / performance of colleagues whilst operating a vehicle just as they would if they witnessed inappropriate behaviour with a student.
Negative Reports – All complaints to be investigated and appropriate action taken
Vehicle Licensing -Ideally to be operated under an O Licence – demonstrates that they want to undertake vehicle operations properly, AND the Traffic Commissioner will have determined that they are fit and proper people to be operating vehicles.
One person to be responsible for all vehicles with authority to remove a vehicle from service or bar a driver from driving. Responsible person must ensure that all repairs are completed on a timely basis.
Age Profile – Set maximum age for vehicles conveying students.
Equipment Spec – Fire suppressing system / Roof emergency exits / Emergency exit warning buzzers / Passenger zone roll bars / Electrical master switch / CCTV – forward, reverse and internal / First aid kit / Fire extinguisher / Heated mirrors / Air-con / No lap belts (Younger students may require five point harness instead of relying on standard seatbelts)
Emissions spec is now a high criteria for low emission zone operation.
Maintenance – All vehicles to be thoroughly inspected and faults repaired on a timely basis commensurate with annual mileage covered.
Repair Agents – Must be vetted – Staff skills and qualifications / equipment / facilities / capacity to attend breakdowns / out of hours response times. If Repair Agent also operates vehicles on an O Licence, the OCRS score of that garage to be considered – reject Repair Agents with a poor OCRS score.
Tyre Management – Written policy on tyre management – age of tyres / minimum tread depth (Suggest 2mm as absolute minimum) / Frequency of tyre inspections / quality of tyres to be purchased / records.
Pre-Use Checks – All drivers to undertake a pre-use vehicle inspection and submit a report of same.
Post-Use Check – All drivers to undertake a post-use vehicle inspection and submit a report of same.
Responsible person to undertake random check of Drivers’ vehicle checks
Records – All vehicles must have a comprehensive history file of inspections and maintenance procedures which will couple with tyre records and driver daily inspections.
Motor Insurance – Must have! (I’ve found schools that didn’t have appropriate cover)
Briefing – All students to receive an “Airline style” pre-journey safety talk – how to behave / Don’t disturb the driver / What to do in case of an emergency.
Responsible Student – If the age profile is appropriate, two students to be nominated to act in an emergency if the driver is incapacitated. Emergency contact numbers pre-loaded into mobile phones, how to ensure the vehicle is put into a safe inert condition, reminder laminated sheet handed out.
Seatbelts – Must be used!
Food – No food or drink on the vehicles. Vehicle cleanliness swiftly deteriorates and bottles or cans can roll forward and block the driver’s controls.
Luggage – Don’t! If loose luggage is carried inside a minibus it blocks emergency egress and is an additional risk if displaced in a collision. If luggage is carried on a roof rack it raises the vehicle’s centre of gravity and thereby makes the vehicle less stable. Where luggage must be carried, store in a cage, but seating capacity will fall as seats would need to be removed to locate the cage.
Journey / Route – planned and logged with school prior to departure. Check for traffic flow, roadworks, hold-ups, anticipated high traffic volumes (anything to slow the journey and thus encourage faster driving once past the hold-up). Plan comfort breaks and if appropriate swop Driver / Escort duties on longer journeys to limit fatigue.
Tachograph Records – Operate on tachos, download the data and manage any infringement such as over speeding.
Emergency egress -All staff and students to experience a smoke filled vehicle emergency egress drill.
Safety Kit – Securely convey safety equipment for the number of students and staff on the vehicle – Foil blankets / Umbrellas / High-Viz waistcoats / Ground sheet / Info sheet with contact numbers.
Breakdowns – Roadside assistance to cover all vehicles in the fleet. Discuss with provider quick response for vehicles conveying students.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
All activities to be risk assessed. Staff to be instructed on the compilation of dynamic risk assessments. Where stringent management is applied to a transport operation, residual risk can be reduced to an acceptable level.
Why wouldn’t you want to manage out all risk factors? You’ve been charged with ensuring students remain safe whilst in your care. Some of the ideas above are inexpensive and easy to implement. I do accept that some of our suggestions require money to introduce, so we’re back to the original argument about budgets, but once again I’d say “If you can’t do it properly, don’t do it at all”