You have your child’s place at secondary school decided. Congratulations! Now, there is the question of how you will get them to school and back safely and reliably.
It’s likely that the journey will be longer than it was for their primary school and it may well involve a bus journey. This may be via a public service, or it may be a dedicated school bus, or even a private coach service.
So, how do you choose? What do you look for to ensure safe and reliable transport to and from school for your child? To help you decide, here are ten questions to ask any bus or coach company you are considering:
DBS checks are an important tool in the ongoing push for better child safety. They come in three flavours: basic, standard, and enhanced. The Enhanced DBS check helps to ensure that anyone who has responsibility for children is not a danger to them. It does this by revealing spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings, plus any other relevant information or data held by the police.
Enhanced DBS checks are now mandatory for all school staff. However, there is no requirement for bus or coach drivers to undergo any sort of DBS check. Surprising, but true.
Ask your provider if they have completed Enhanced DBS checks on all their drivers.
A missing bus affects not only the children who are its passengers, but also parents, carers and others who find their days disrupted as they deal with the consequences of the non-running of the service. If the school is open and the roads are safe, it’s important that your school bus runs every day that it’s supposed to run.
Of course, there may be days when a bus develops a fault. But if so, that bus should be replaced as soon as possible and the journey completed as planned.
Ask your bus operator about their record of reliability. Can they guarantee that they will complete the journey every time?
Let’s hope we are through the worst of the Covid-19 crisis, but Covid safety on school buses should still be a high priority for bus operators. Things to consider:
- Does the bus or coach has opening windows? UK Government information shows how coronavirus lingers in the air in spaces with no fresh air, increasing the risk of people breathing in infected particles, and how the risk can be reduced significantly by regularly ventilating enclosed areas. Having lots of windows on the bus and making sure they are all open is a start.
- Is the wearing of masks compulsory on the bus? Face coverings are intended to protect the wearer and others against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of the virus that causes coronavirus infection. Making sure that everybody wears a mask helps to ensure everybody is protected.
- Is there a seating plan? This is important to track those who might have been at risk in the event that a passenger does report an infection.
- How are the buses cleaned between journeys? It’s extremely important that buses and coaches are sprayed with an antiviral substance that kills the virus on contact with it. This means that if children are touching handrails, seats, or any parts of the bus, those surfaces have coated with antiviral spray. This will help prevent viral spread and must be done regularly.
Ask your provider for their Covid-19 safety measures.
Maintenance standards vary widely between bus and coach companies. Many operators maintain their vehicles well, but there are some really poor bus and coach operators who don’t look after their vehicles properly. This is problem because a dangerous bus is potentially fatal.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) is the government body charged with the safety of public service vehicles. They do unannounced spot checks on school bus services, and their data shows that many times each year, school bus services are stopped with dangerous defects.
Ask your bus service provider about their record. What is their MOT pass rate? Does the company commission independent safety checks? The answers will tell you how seriously the bus company takes maintenance of their vehicles.
Scheduled buses nowadays have live GPS tracking, so the operator knows exactly where every bus is. There’s no requirement for coach operators to have tracking.
Lots of operators keep their tracking to themselves. It’s worth asking your bus operator whether they make it available to you. The good ones will do.
This helps you to see where your child’s bus is and when they might be home, or it allows you to see where the bus is in the morning and make sure your child doesn’t miss it! Ask your bus company what their policy is.
Many coach companies require customers to pay for the whole year’s travel in advance – sometimes as early as March and April for travel they’re not taking until September to July in the next Bus services!
For many families, it’s much easier to budget if they can pay by direct debit. This enables them to split the cost of the service into a series of monthly payments during the period in which they are using the service.
It’s a much better experience for your child – especially in their first weeks at secondary school when everything is big and strange – if the driver is a friendly face who they get to know and who knows them.
Dedicated drivers build up years of experience driving the same route. Each year, they come to know the children on their route, and they’re also good at managing the children on the bus.
Some problems are unavoidable. A sudden snowstorm, or heavy congestion caused by roadworks. At times like this, communication with parents becomes very important. It’s easy for bus companies to set up texting for customers, and there really aren’t any excuses for them not to do so on a service like a school bus where the passengers are broadly the same set of people every day. They should be able to tell you exactly what’s going on with the bus in real time.
Some bus companies still don’t have online booking. This might have been acceptable a few years ago, but nobody today wants to fill in a form and then put it in the post with a cheque.
You should be able to find out about your service, book, and pay online.
Children now expect to have Wi-Fi available pretty much everywhere they go. Whether they are communicating with their friends, or trying to get ahead with their homework, they don’t necessarily want to use their data allowance on their phones when they are on the bus.
It’s useful if buses have high quality Wi-Fi on board. Ask your bus provider if it does.