MPs throw weight behind minibus safety campaign

The campaign to scrap exemptions that allow schools and colleges to run minibuses without an Operator’s Licence is being taken to Westminster today.

MPs are backing an Early Day Motion, tabled by Labour MP for Tamworth, Sarah Edwards, calling on Government to ensure that all schools with minibuses are required to have a full public service vehicle operator’s licence.

It comes as NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union releases survey data from members which found that:

16% of respondents said they’d driven in the last year have had no training to do so.

40% of respondents drive at least once a month, with 16% driving once a week.

Nearly a quarter of those responding to the survey report being pressurised to drive at least ‘sometimes’, with 5% saying they are often pressurised.

More than one in ten (12%) said they drive more than 50 miles after a full day of teaching at least sometimes.

Over a quarter (26%) said they drive the minibus feeling tired at least sometimes, 5% said they drove tired often or always.

On November 18th 1993 a minibus from Hagley Roman Catholic High School crashed on the M40 near Warwick, killing 12 pupils and their teacher. Only two pupils survived.

Although much has been done to improve the safety of minibuses themselves since the crash, the NASUWT is deeply concerned that the fundamental cause of the accident – a teacher driving a minibus when they shouldn’t have been – remains unresolved.

The House of Commons motion is supported by the NASUWT and Liz and Steve Fitzgerald, the parents of Claire, who was just 13 when she was killed in the crash.

NASUWT representatives and Liz and Steve will be joining MPs at the official launch of the Early Day Motion, hosted by Sarah Edwards in Portcullis House. The campaign is also backed by trade unions GMB, Unison and Unite.

As well as calling for all schools with minibuses to have a full public service vehicle operator’s licence, the motion says the current legislative framework is confusing for schools and colleges and highlights the fact that private schools are required to operate to a higher standard of safety than state-funded schools.

NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “It is unacceptable that teachers can be expected to work for a full day in the classroom and then ne asked to drive pupils often for hours at a time.

“Our members have provided shocking evidence that shows some are not trained to drive children in a minibus, that they are pressurised to do so and are even driving when tired. This situation cannot be allowed to continue as it is a tragedy waiting to happen.

“We’re delighted that MPs are backing the campaign which aims to close this loophole in the regulations, bring in statutory safeguards and ensure that all drivers of minibuses have formal qualifications.

“Now we need to see concerted action by Ministers to ensure everything is done to prevent history repeating itself.”

Sarah Edwards MP said: “No parent should ever be told that their child won’t be returning from school. But that’s exactly what happened thirty years ago when my constituents Liz and Steve Fitzgerald were told that their daughter Claire had been killed, alongside eleven of her classmates and teacher in a collision on the M40 as they returned from a school trip past midnight.

“Yet in their grief, in memory of Claire, and all those that died that night. Liz and Steve have campaigned relentlessly for a change in the law so that no other parents should have to go through their experience ever again.

“Thirty years on, despite positive changes to make mini buses safer, the law still allows teachers to be pressured into driving vehicles they’re not comfortable driving, often after a full day at work because of exemptions 19 and 22 in the Road Traffic Act.

“Working alongside the NASUWT they have identified damning research that shows one in four teachers have been pressured into driving a minibus without any qualifications and one in ten have been forced to drive over fifty miles after a full day teaching.

“This week, shoulder to shoulder with Liz and Steve, and with the support of teachers and parents across the country, we launch our campaign to fellow Members of Parliament, to garner their support to finally change the law, to remove these exemptions and ensure that children are only driven by qualified and professional drivers.”