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1 school transport: survey of good practice IMPROVING SERVICES SAFE WORKING TOGETHER SUSTAINABLE

2 SCHOOL TRANSPORT: SURVEY OF GOOD PRACTICE 1 MVA Consultancy was commissioned to undertake a survey of good practice on the provision of school transport in Scotland. The survey covered three core areas, namely the quality of free school transport, safety and security issues, and the integration of school transport into wider policies including the health, environment and sustainability agendas. A survey was administered to all Scottish local authorities and in-depth case studies were carried out with those that demonstrated good practice in one or more areas. A guidance document was produced for dissemination to councils and other key stakeholders that outlines good practice and highlights areas where more can be done to improve school travel and transport. Main Findings Generally, authorities are performing well in the provision of school transport and associated measures to improve behaviour and reduce car dependency. Councils retain a great deal of flexibility in how they provide school transport. There are also various ways of procuring services and managing contracts; however, this has dissipated responsibilities. There are examples of effective partnership working between transport and education departments within local authorities that maximise the respective skills and experience of staff in these two domains to improve policy effectiveness and achieve better value for money. Spot checks are giving authorities confidence that the vehicles used for school work are fit for purpose. Many authorities are carrying out their own checks to supplement those being carried out by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). There is a move away from the use of attendants and monitors to keep control on school buses, in favour of CCTV which is seen to provide more objective evidence regarding pupil behaviour. Some authorities are, however, finding the costs of CCTV too high. Many of the core messages regarding pupil safety and security are already included in the school curriculum, but these are not always linked explicitly to the school journey. Only a few authorities are proactively and imaginatively tackling issues of bad behaviour on school buses. Small changes to existing initiatives may make the links more clear and there may be room for building bullying and stranger danger issues into existing codes of conduct for pupils, drivers and attendants/escorts to consolidate existing messages. There is a large number of examples of good practice that encourage safe and healthy travel to school using sustainable modes, and national schemes also appear to be generally supported by education authorities. Parents appear to find it difficult to navigate the web of responsibilities involved in transporting their children to school those of the Scottish Parliament, for legislation on provision of school transport and school attendance; those of local authorities, for deciding whether, when and how to provide school transport; and those of the Department for Transport, for legislation on bus safety standards, including seat belts and use of hazard warning lights. Some parents are also unclear about their own responsibilities for ensuring that their children have access to education. This is being addressed in some authority areas by the development of parent information notices, open days and online information resources. There is perhaps a remaining need to make parents more aware of their own responsibilities in ensuring safe and healthy travel to school. SUSTAINABLE WORKING TOGETHER

3 2 Introduction In 2005, the Minister for Education and Young People undertook to work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) to identify and disseminate good practice on a range of issues relating to travel to school. This followed consideration by the Scottish Parliament s Education Committee of the effectiveness of the Executive s 2003 guidance on school transport 1 and findings from the Scottish Consumer Council s (SCC) 2005 Review of School Transport Contracts in Scotland 2 which recommended, amongst other things, that the Executive and local authorities aim for a greater consistency through the sharing of best practice, especially in relation to contracting, performance monitoring and training for drivers of school transport. As a result, the Scottish Executive Education Department commissioned MVA Consultancy to carry out a survey of all Scottish local authorities to identify examples of good practice and to produce a guidance document outlining such examples for dissemination to councils and other key stakeholders across the country. Policy Context Education authorities have a duty, under section 51 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, to make such arrangements as they consider necessary for the provision of school transport, transport facilities or financial assistance towards the cost of travel to school for pupils residing, and attending an education authority-managed school, in their area. In considering whether to make arrangements, they are required to have regard to the safety of the pupil. Various modes of transport can be involved in providing for school travel, including trains, taxis and ferries, but the overwhelming majority of school transport is by bus. Legislation sets out the minimum standards that vehicles must comply with when carrying passengers, including school pupils, and, in some cases, there are also specific requirements for the carriage of school children. This legislation is reserved to the UK Parliament. 1 Circular 7/2003 Scottish Executive Education Department, August A review of school transport contracts in Scotland, Scottish Consumer Council (SCC), February 2005 SAFE IMPROVING SERVICES

4 SCHOOL TRANSPORT: SURVEY OF GOOD PRACTICE 3 Operation of a school bus service must comply with relevant legislation vehicles and drivers should be appropriately licensed, and the service registered as a local bus service with the Scottish Traffic Commissioner if the operator wants to charge any of the passengers to travel on the service. The drivers of dedicated school buses are also subject to Disclosure Scotland checks. In some cases, the education authority may fulfil its school transport requirements by providing passes for children to travel on service buses. That is, buses that are not exclusively for school children but which also carry other paying passengers. This can range from the purchase of passes for one or two pupils to travel on a bus service where the overwhelming majority of passengers are not school children, to bus services in more rural areas where the service is open to everyone and runs throughout the year but is predominantly used, during term time, by school children. Since October 2001, seatbelts have been compulsory in all new minibuses and coaches. For all earlier minibuses and coaches, the regulations state that, if they are used for school transport, seatbelts must also be installed. This requirement does not apply to public transport-type buses used for school transport, given that they are primarily designed to carry standing passengers. For purposes of legislation, a seatbelt is a minimum of a lap belt. Failure to comply with safety standards can lead to disciplinary action such as a reduction in the number of buses an operator is allowed to operate, or, in extreme cases, revocation of their licence. Whilst school transport remains high on the education agenda, evidence suggests that the majority of travel to school is still undertaken on foot. Despite this, there has been a notable increase in the proportion of journeys to school that are being made by car. Results from the 2005 Scottish Household Survey 3 suggest that 21% of all children in Scotland are driven to school, compared to 53% who walk. The proportion of pupils travelling by school bus is around 24%. Existing legislation makes it possible to use a variety of physical engineering measures to affect the choice of mode for travel to school but changing pupil and parental attitudes to car travel also appears necessary if reductions in congestion and pollution are to be achieved. 3 Scotland s People: Results from the 2005 Scottish Household Survey, Scottish Executive (2006) SUSTAINABLE WORKING TOGETHER

5 4 Research Aims and Objectives The research sought to identify examples of good practice in three main areas, these being: Quality of Service covering standards of bus safety, reliability and punctuality, driver and attendant/escort training, performance monitoring, quality of service feedback mechanisms and procurement/contractual issues. Pupil Safety and Security exploring both road safety issues (including accident risks) and dangers presented by fellow pupils, such as bullying and unruly behaviour. This aspect of the work also explored potential threat of stranger danger. School Transport and Other Policies focusing on the integration of school transport issues within the wider environmental, health and sustainability context. Specific examples of good practice were noted along with incidental learning from previous policies employed by authorities. Methodology The research comprised three core elements: Desk-based research, including a review of relevant policy, practice and research papers, including documented good practice examples already highlighted from research undertaken elsewhere; A survey of all local authorities across Scotland, to explore current practice and ascertain the views of authorities on the main local issues with regard to school transport and locally-held knowledge regarding good practice from elsewhere. A total of 30 out of 32 authorities responded; and Case studies with 15 authorities demonstrating good practice in one or more areas. These used a variety of research methods including interviews with council officers and transport operators, and focus groups, telephone interviews and an survey with parents and pupils. Quality of Service The survey revealed that the cost of school contracts is the second greatest concern among local authorities in respect of school travel, with pupil behaviour and bullying being top of the list. SAFE IMPROVING SERVICES

6 SCHOOL TRANSPORT: SURVEY OF GOOD PRACTICE 5 Over a third of respondents were concerned about vehicle safety and the quality of drivers. This was surprising as nearly all authorities (24 out of 28 respondents) have written minimum standards into their conditions of contract and many carry out a variety of checks on vehicles and documentation to ensure that they are getting what they ask for. There are clear examples of good practice with authorities working in partnership with neighbouring councils, VOSA, and the police on aspects of roadworthiness, licensing and insurance to drive out unsatisfactory operators. These initiatives are delivering positive results. Most authorities (23 out of 28) produce codes of conduct setting out what is expected of drivers and attendants. That said, there was no evidence of any in-house development or delivery of training packages and authorities appear to be depending largely on operators to provide the necessary guidance to their staff. There appears to be little awareness among councils of the content or format of the training that is actually delivered. Consultation responses suggest that there is a high turnover of bus drivers in some areas and this may affect parents confidence in the transport system and pupils behaviour on board. Schools appear to be playing a key role in monitoring punctuality and reliability of services and, generally, there appear to be few complaints to authorities from parents in this regard. Effective schemes for monitoring punctuality and reliability exist in some areas including complaints postcards and quality of service inspectors. Some councils have also developed bespoke databases to assist in performance monitoring. Pupil Safety and Security The journey to school presents a number of potential safety and security issues for pupils and parents, including: road safety/risk of accidents; exposure to stranger danger ; and exposure to bullying/unruly behaviour by fellow pupils. Of the 30 councils that responded to the survey, 22 said that bullying by other pupils was a local concern. Some 19 mentioned road safety but only eight said that stranger danger was a local issue. SUSTAINABLE WORKING TOGETHER

7 6 Despite this, the survey also revealed that many local authorities are focusing greater attention towards road safety education and training than tackling the potential dangers to pupils posed by children and adults encountered on the school journey. For the most part, it appears that stranger danger is tackled within core areas of the curriculum, such as Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), with some evidence that the police are also playing a part in some areas of providing one-off talks to pupils. The dominant message in stranger danger of run, yell and tell appears to be the mainstay of education in this field. Attitudes expressed by some authorities contacted as part of the consultation suggest that the risk to children from strangers is considered to be relatively small. Many authorities cited low-incidence rates as a reason why it does not attract high levels of attention within the curriculum, and there were suggestions that fear of stranger danger was disproportionate to the actual incidence. Examples of good practice include the use of CCTV on buses to monitor behaviour. Pupils and parents agree that this is preferable to the use of attendants or monitors on school buses as it is seen to provide more objective evidence in cases of complaints against individual pupils. There also appears to be generally high levels of support for CCTV among authorities but the cost of stipulating provision on all contracted school vehicles makes it unfeasible for some. It was also suggested that it may preclude otherwise good operators from being awarded contracts. CCTV was seen as one of the best ways of monitoring seatbelt use although young people appear to have a generally good awareness of the importance of wearing belts where fitted. Several authorities produce Codes of Conduct for pupils which provide guidance on acceptable standards of behaviour on the way to/from school. A range of DVDs and other media is also used to teach young people about the dangers of misbehaving on transport services. National schemes such as Kerbcraft and Safer Routes to School appear to be popular among schools and there is evidence that they are impacting positively on child safety. SAFE IMPROVING SERVICES

8 SCHOOL TRANSPORT: SURVEY OF GOOD PRACTICE 7 School Transport and Other Policies The Scottish Executive is committed to the promotion of sustainable travel and encouraging healthier, more environmentally-sensitive travel options that contribute to the physical and mental health and well-being of children and young people. Both parents and schools play a central role in achieving these goals, with parents, in particular, having a role to play in reducing congestion and pollution caused by driving their children to school. The research shows that, whilst many parents are aware of the health and environmental benefits of walking or cycling to school, many remain concerned about safety and continue to choose the car as a mode of choice. Schools, assisted by School Travel Co-ordinators, appear to be providing very positive messages to children and young people about sustainable travel and a host of innovative local and national initiatives were highlighted during the research. Examples of good practice include Walk to School weeks, Travelling Green and several other interactive schemes. Most authorities also appear to be proactive in installing cycle racks and cycle parking facilities at schools, cycle lanes, and pedestrian crossings at and around schools. In some areas, schools play a part in encouraging travel by public transport. This has included the development of child-friendly bus timetables in one area. Other authorities have clear policies on promoting car share schemes for staff travelling to school. Authorities appear to be engaging well with the development of School Travel Plans (STPs). These provide a tool for linking school travel with the wider transport policies of local authorities. School Travel Assessments, which provide a tool for identifying where infrastructure improvements can be made around schools to achieve wider transport policy aims, also appear to be widely used to positive effect. The single biggest barrier to encouraging greater uptake of walking and cycling appears to be parental attitudes. SUSTAINABLE WORKING TOGETHER

9 8 Issues for the Future Misunderstandings regarding responsibilities for different parts of the school journey appear to be leaving gaps in coverage among schools, operators and parents. We believe that responsibilities need to be made more explicit to parents including their own. There is a need for authorities to investigate what form of training their contractors are giving to drivers, and if necessary, to work together, for example through ATCO, in standardising driver training and improving consistency. Only a few authorities are proactively and imaginatively tackling issues of bullying and bad behaviour on school buses. Many of the core messages regarding pupil safety and security are already included in the school curriculum, but these are not always linked explicitly to the school journey. Small changes to existing initiatives may make the links more clear and there may be room for building bullying and stranger danger issues into existing Codes of Conduct for pupils, drivers and attendants/escorts to consolidate existing messages. Many of the schemes which link school transport to wider transport policies rely on the input of School Travel Co-ordinators. The posts are not permanent and the discontinuity and loss of knowledge is likely to affect the effectiveness of school travel plans. Few authorities are proactively engaging pupils in discussing their views about school transport and what they would like to see changed. Given that many of the good practice examples highlighted have involved consultation with pupils and parents at planning stages, this general lesson should, perhaps, be bourn in mind in the future development of new initiatives targeted at improving the journey to school. Conclusions The survey has revealed that, generally, authorities are performing well in the provision of school transport and associated measures to improve behaviour and reduce car dependency. That said, however, there remains room for improvement, especially with regards to pupils safety and security issues. Greater engagement with pupils and parents is needed to provide holistic solutions. The full report can be viewed in the publications section of the Scottish Executive website at SAFE IMPROVING SERVICES

10 Crown copyright 2007 ISBN: RR Donnelley B /07 w w w. s c o t l a n d. g o v. u k

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