Updated: Sep 24
Each year, thousands of vulnerable children qualify for free school transport through their local authority and now safeguarding training for school transport drivers and passenger assistants is an enforced requirement.
In June 2023, the Department for Education updated its statutory guidance on the ‘Travel to school for children of compulsory school age’ policy. For the first time ever, it stated that: “Local authorities should ensure that drivers and passenger assistants working on dedicated school transport have undertaken appropriate training and that this is kept up to date.”
The new guidance comes after a series of serious safeguarding incidents on school transport. It also follows several local authority reviews, which have revealed shocking gaps in school transport monitoring. Last year, Sandwell Council issued new contracts for home-to-school transport to two companies that had previously been involved in a failed DBS-check scandal at neighbouring Birmingham City Council. In November, a review by West Northamptonshire Council’s internal audit team found that the local authority had more than 800 contracts with more than 130 different school transport providers, and some drivers didn’t have proof of safety background checks. It also found that many companies weren’t being inspected properly.
In light of the new statutory guidance, councils across England are now starting to review their transport contracts. In August, Swindon Borough Council became the first local authority to publicly announce plans to change its licensing policy, making the completion of an online safeguarding training course a new condition of each school taxi driver’s licence.
Jane Saggers, Founder of the online school transport training company, Spectrum Courses, explains: “We are proud to be raising standards and reducing incidents all over the country and we have campaigned to the DfE to protect everyone involved on the school run. We’re providing a simple, affordable solution for every driver and PA in the country.”
Further widespread changes to school transport contracts are expected to follow in other local authorities throughout the rest of the year, as the need for better transport safeguarding training is finally starting to be realised. This means that transport companies up and down the country will now find themselves in the spotlight and the need for DfE-compliant safeguarding training will be greater than ever.