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Annette Brooke MP: Driving change on school bus bullying

3 min read

Lib Dem MP Annette Brooke calls for new rules to tackle bullying on school buses, following the suicide of an 11 year-old boy whose family live in her constituency, Mid Dorset and North Poole.

Ben Vodden, aged 11, committed suicide after persistent bullying on a dedicated school bus in 2006. His family moved to my constituency some years ago and since then  I have pushed hard in Westminster to ensure more is done to tackle bullying on school transport.

The heart-breaking story of 11 year old Ben shone a light on the one-off circumstances of dedicated school bus journeys and the unique situation we put the bus drivers in. In what other situation is one untrained adult required to be in charge of many tens of children without support, whilst driving a ten tonne vehicle? From the child’s perspective, he/she may be experiencing bullying in a confined space with no means of escape

In November 2013 I led a debate on the issue in which I shared with the House the findings of the Vodden report – an online survey carried out by Paul Vodden, Ben’s father, to assess the extent of bullying on school buses.

Since this last debate, I have commissioned a further survey to look at what progress has been made. Have local authorities taken note of Governmental guidance on bullying on school transport? Do they all now possess safer travel policies for dedicated school buses? What has been done to improve communication between schools and local authorities?

The survey, which was sent out to 152 local authorities, received 109 responses. Whilst showing some signs of progress, it is clear from the results of the survey that there is much more to be done.

The survey discovered that 18 councils did not have a safe travel policy in place nor any policy resembling this. Out of the 109 respondents, only 40 required school transport contractors to follow an anti-bullying policy. There was only one local authority that said that displaying anti-bullying messages was a requirement.

Only 16 of the 109 local authorities contractually required bus drivers to undergo training on how to deal with bullying, demonstrating a particular lack of progress since the last debate. The survey uncovered some interesting correlations between the existence of safe travel policies and the number of reported bullying incidents – although further research is still needed to get to the bottom of this.

The research tells us that bus drivers should receive accredited and appropriate training in how to deal with bullying; that, ideally, there should be another trained adult on the bus; that there should be clear procedures in place so that all drivers can report incidents to their company which in turn has clear processes to follow with the school and local authority. Parents and children should also have clear routes to communicate problems with appropriate subsequent action to be taken.

We can always do more to tackle bullying in all contexts, in this particular area we can and should make further efforts to protect our children. 

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