Belfast Telegraph

Union calls for an immediate review after 'shocking' defect figures on school buses

By Gillian Halliday

A leading teachers' union has called for an immediate review into the standard of local school buses after almost one-third of vehicles inspected during 2017/18 were found to have problems.

The demand was issued yesterday after it further emerged random roadside spot-checks conducted by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) led to issues being detected in almost one-fifth of cases since 2013.

Problems detected included "lighting/signage, brakes, bodywork, tyres, tachographs, oil/fuel leaks and emergency exit defects", the BBC reported.

The latest figures show that out of 90 spot checks conducted on vehicles during the previous financial year - there were problems with 28 of them - and of these, a total of 52 issues were detected.

It also emerged that the Western region has fared worst, with 11 problem vehicles and 21 issues detected last year.

The Western region is where a Co Fermanagh girl sustained injuries after she fell through a school bus window that had collapsed seconds earlier in a reported incident last September.

The Education Authority (EA), however, has stressed any defects are rectified immediately, with a spokesman adding that it provides transport assistance for 85,000 pupils on a yearly basis, either by buses operated by itself or other operators.

Figures also revealed that since 2013, 599 buses have been inspected with a total of 279 issues/offences identified in 134 cases.

Meanwhile, over the past five years the DVA has issued 167 legal notices which require the defects to be fixed and checked within 14 days.

Over the same period the DVA also issued a further 97 prohibition notices due to "significant road safety concern", which were accompanied by 58 suspension notices that allows licences or vehicle certificates to be suspended until all defects are rectified.

NASUWT NI representative Justin McCamphill described the figures as "shocking".

"The Education Authority should conduct an immediate review into why their bus fleet is performing so badly in these random checks," he said.

"The Education Authority needs to show parents and the public what steps they are putting in place to ensure that their bus fleet is 100% safe for the start of the next academic year.

"No child should be travelling to or from school on a bus that is not safe."

His comments were echoed by Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, who said that she would be seeking further assurances from EA on the "continuing safety of our children and young people, as they travel to and from school".

In response, the Education Authority said it "works closely with DVA to ensure school transport services are fully compliant" in all aspects.

It added: "In relation to contracted services, while the primary responsibility for dealing with non-compliance lies with DVA, this process is supported by EA through its own contractual management arrangements with operators, which can include sanctions up to and including termination of contract."

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