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School Transport Guidance

School Transport Guidance Circular

Scottish Executive Education Department Circular 7/2003. The topics covered in this circular are divided into 3 sections :






Many parents rely on school transport provided by their education authority to get their children to school. Authorities have a common law duty of care for the safety of pupils under their charge and this duty extends to pupils using school transport. Accordingly, parents have a right to expect that suitable arrangements for a safe school transport system will be made by education authorities, taking account of local circumstances.

Scottish Ministers expect authorities to provide, whenever possible, a school transport service that uses modern and reliable vehicles of the highest standard.


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Section 51 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, as amended, requires education authorities to make such arrangements as they consider necessary for the provision of school transport and transport facilities on such terms and conditions as may be arranged, and to pay all or part of reasonable travelling expenses for school pupils residing in their area and attending designated schools. They are further required, when considering whether to make arrangements for the provision of school transport for pupils attending their schools, to have regard to the safety of those pupils.

Scottish Ministers expect authorities to keep their school transport provision under review to secure, as far as is reasonable and practicable, the safety of pupils at all times, in accordance with their duties under the Act and the Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Regulations 1990.

Authorities are now permitted to charge the parents of a pupil taking up a vacant place at a cost they consider appropriate. They may make different charges for different cases or different classes of case. Authorities are also reminded that they should have regard to the financial circumstances of the parents and consider when a charge should be paid by the parents without undue hardship.


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A Safe School Travel Pack, provided by the Scottish School Board Association and endorsed by the Scottish Executive, provides sound advice on ways in which school staff, parents and pupils can all play an important part in making the journey to and from school a safe one.

The Pack comprises 4 parts:

  • a guide book
  • a video
  • a CD-ROM and
  • curriculum material.

The guide book consists of a series of do's and don'ts aimed at pupils, parents and school staff. The video depicts various scenarios of accidents arising from unruly behaviour associated with school transport. The CD-ROM produces a multimedia element for parent and pupil participation, whilst the curriculum material focuses on ways in which pupils can positively affect their safety when travelling to and from school. This material is readily related to the 5 - 14 curriculum. Copies of the pack were sent to all education authorities for distribution to schools in 1996. Additional copies of the pack, or parts of it, can be obtained from The Scottish School Board Association, Newall Terrace, Dumfries, DG1 1LW (telephone: 01387 260428 or fax: 01387 260428). A charge may be made.

The Safe School Travel Pack suggests ways in which school staff can assist in the operation of a safe and efficient transport service. These include :

  • Ensuring that pupils understand the rules for safe travel on school buses, including the consequences of misbehaviour and banned activities such as smoking, vandalism, fighting, moving about the vehicle and tampering with the emergency doors and windows;
  • Working with transport operators and the education authority as appropriate in cases of problem behaviour;
  • Ensuring observance of a "No Smoking" policy on school buses (for example, by using supervisors or liasing with drivers), taking firm action against any pupil found smoking (see paragraph 9) and reporting any driver observed smoking to his/her employer (see paragraph 10).
  • Taking a firm line with pupils who misbehave on or around school transport;
  • Warning pupils of the danger of distracting the driver's attention by misbehaving on the vehicle;
  • Encouraging pupils to stand back from the edge of the kerb when waiting for the bus;
  • Providing safe access to and from the bus park for both vehicles and pupils and ensuring adequate supervision of transport arrival and departure from the school;
  • Ensuring that private cars on school property are not parked in such a way that they cause obstruction or danger;
  • Establishing contingency plans for bad weather or other emergencies in line with education authorities' policies;
  • Providing transport operators with advance details of dates when schools are closed for teacher training, or early dismissals for any other reason;
  • Ensuring that buses are not overloaded (for example, by supervising pupils when they board buses and ensuring that sufficient buses are available); and
  • Reporting to the Education Department any shortcomings in the transport service, including late or non-operation, incorrect route and poor driving standards.

A booklet "Safe School Trips" gives an insight into the legal and safety implications in the preparation and taking of School Trips. Copies can be purchased from the Scottish School Board Association at the address given in paragraph 6. Again a charge may be made.

"Minibus Safety - Code of Practice", developed by several key organisations and published by the Royal Society of the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in March 2002, is designed to help those who either own, hire or lease minibuses to provide a safe, effective and efficient service. Primarily written for persons who have responsibility for the operation and management of the minibus, the Code is for use by people such as drivers, headteachers, centre managers, group leaders etc. It is not written for commercial operators who require a full PSV operator's licence. The Code includes sections on:

  • Best Practice
  • The Management System
  • The Driver
  • Passenger Care
  • Journeys Abroad

Copies of this publication are available from RoSPA, Edgbaston Park, 353 Bristol Road, Birmingham, B5 7ST, Tel: 0121 248 2222. A charge per copy will be payable.


Recommendation 12 of "Better Behaviour-Better Learning" (the Report of the Discipline Task Group, 2001) encourages authorities and schools to consider the promotion of positive behaviour outside the classroom, in playgrounds, corridors and public areas. Supervision on transport can help to maintain good behaviour amongst pupils and this in turn can contribute to more positive behaviour within the classroom. Discipline problems which start on the journey to school, can spill over into the classroom. Supervision contributes more generally to greater school transport safety. It is for education authorities themselves to determine, in the light of local circumstances, whether or to what extent to provide supervision. Some authorities now provide supervision on school transport where, for example, double decker buses are used. Other authorities benefit from using vehicles with CCTV cameras or by using designated school escorts (e.g. teachers, assistants, prefects, travel monitors, volunteer parents etc.).

Some authorities actively use the journey time to build positive relationships with school pupils and youth workers or other staff, which can be particularly beneficial in rural areas where access to youth services is more limited.

There is no statutory requirement for education authorities to provide supervisors on school transport provided under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. While Scottish Ministers agree that, on many journeys, the supervision of pupils is unnecessary, there is little doubt that it would be desirable in some circumstances, and may have a positive impact on discipline issues such as bullying, which frequently occur in areas where pupils may not be subject to supervision.

For example, such circumstances might include school outings; when very young children or children with special needs are travelling; or when travelling outwith normal school hours. Scottish Ministers expect authorities to keep under review the issue of when, where and how they might provide appropriate supervision.

Pupil behaviour on school transport

Parents and school staff have a key role in encouraging pupils to behave responsibly whilst on a school bus. The safety of pupils using school transport, particularly when boarding and alighting a bus, could be jeopardised as a direct consequence of inappropriate or unruly behaviour. The Safe School Travel Pack includes advice specifically for pupils themselves. Education authorities are urged to ensure that pupils have access to and are given the opportunity to read the advice included in the pack.


Under the Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990 smoking is prohibited in any part of a vehicle where a "No Smoking" notice is displayed by the operator, unless the vehicle has been hired and both the operator and the hirer have granted permission. It would be a matter for operators to decide whether to display "No Smoking" notices in their vehicles. Some children nonetheless choose to smoke and in these circumstances there is a clear role for school staff and parents to discourage such behaviour.

The same Regulations also ban drivers from smoking in a bus, unless the vehicle is not available for the carriage of passengers, or the vehicle is on hire and both the operator and the hirer have given permission for the driver to smoke. Scottish Ministers consider that it would be appropriate to clarify this point in the contract between the education authority and transport providers. Any driver who ignores a "No Smoking" ban should be reported to his/her employer. Ultimately a driver can be reported to the police or to the Traffic Commissioner.

Walking distance to school

In making their arrangements for the provision of school transport authorities must take into consideration the distance between a pupil's normal place of residence and school. The details of the arrangements are for each education authority to determine in light of local circumstances. In general, they make free travel available to pupils who live outwith the statutory walking distance, defined in section 42(4) of the 1980 Act as being 2 miles for any pupil under 8 years of age and 3 miles for any other pupil. Those distances relate to school attendance issues, and are used to determine what would constitute a legitimate reason for not sending a child to school.

Section 51 of the 1980 Act does not itself set any distance beyond which transport should be provided, in recognition of the fact that each school transport journey is different.

Scottish Ministers appreciate that authorities have to make difficult decisions, and there will instances where individual pupils residing just within measured boundaries would not normally be entitled to free transport, whereas those residing just outwith the boundaries would qualify. Ministers expect authorities to keep under review their criteria on this provision by introducing added flexibility and taking into consideration the increased volume of traffic on our roads, the availability of crossings, sufficient pavement and footpaths, subways, built-up and wooded areas, adequate street lighting etc.


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It is for education authorities themselves to negotiate the terms of contracts for school transport.

However, the Safe School Travel Pack referred to in paragraph 6 recommends that education authorities' Condition of Contract or Good Practice Codes, applicable to school transport provided by hired contractors, should place a number of responsibilities on the contractor. These include the need to ensure that :

  • Staff and vehicles meet both statutory obligations and any additional requirements set by the education authority;
  • Drivers are comprehensively briefed on the operation of school transport arrangements, with particular attention focused on any Codes of Practice issued by the education authority;
  • Contingency plans are in place to deal with vehicle failures, staff unavailability, emergency closure of school(s) and other emergencies;
  • All necessary specialist equipment, including tail lifts, is in good working order and that the operational staff are trained in the correct use of the equipment;
  • Operational staff are briefed on issues involving pupil safety and behaviour, and that they know never to eject a pupil from a school transport vehicle;
  • They do not sub-contract to another operator without the permission of the authority; and
  • Operational or behaviour problems are reported immediately to the school concerned, the education authority and the authority's school transport organiser.
Disclosure Scotland

Many children travel to school either on designated school buses or by taxi. Scottish Ministers expect authorities, when negotiating school transport contracts, to require that all drivers and escorts are fully scrutinised by Disclosure Scotland. Relevant checks should be undertaken by the bus company and the authority as necessary.

If an authority subsequently has concerns about the suitability of an individual driver or escort in such circumstances the authority should take this up directly with the bus company or other appropriate authorities.

Type and Standard of Vehicle

The type of vehicle used for school transport should be suitable for the purpose intended. It is open to authorities, for example, to exclude the use of double decker buses where they consider that to be appropriate and to specify that minibuses must be used on certain routes, such as narrow and difficult roads.

It is for education authorities to set appropriate contract conditions when letting contracts for school transport, which take full account of the circumstances of particular journeys, such as distance and the nature of the route. It is a legal requirement that vehicles are in a fit and roadworthy condition, regardless of their age. Education authorities should however consider stipulating the maximum age of vehicles used for school transport in their contracts and seek assurances from operators that such vehicles are of the highest possible standard.

School Bus Signs and Hazard Warning Lights

In terms of the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 as amended by the Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 1994, designated buses and coaches that are used for journeys to and from school are required to display distinctive retro-reflective yellow school bus signs fitted to the front and rear of the bus. These signs must be plainly visible to road users ahead of, and behind, the bus. Vehicles displaying school bus signs are also permitted to use hazard warning lights when the vehicle is stationary and children are boarding or alighting.

The purpose of the school bus sign and hazard warning lights is to make other road users aware that when the vehicle is stationary children are likely to be getting on or off the bus and may be crossing the road. Other road users should, therefore, be very cautious when passing a school bus in those circumstances. There is no statutory requirement to remove the school bus signs when the vehicles are not being used to transport children, or to use hazard warning lights when the vehicle is stationary and children are boarding or alighting. However, Scottish Ministers invite education authorities to stipulate in their contracts that the signs should only be displayed when children are being transported and that hazard warning lights should be used when children are getting on or off vehicles.

Prohibiting access by certain vehicles to school transport routes

Authorities may consider it desirable to prohibit access by certain vehicles to some routes in the interests of school transport safety. For example, they may consider it desirable to prohibit large goods vehicles (LGVs) on narrow country roads during times when school buses are likely to be running on these routes.

Local authorities can achieve this by exercising powers available to them under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 which allows authorities to make Traffic Regulation Orders preventing the use of local roads by vehicular traffic of a kind or in a manner which is unsuitable having regard to the character of the road. Mandatory restrictions can cover small lengths of a road or large area networks and can be based on gross vehicle weight, axle weight, length, height or width or any other readily understood characteristics of the vehicles.

One of the most cost-effective traffic management measures is the signposting of suitable alternative routes, where appropriate, to direct LGV traffic away from particular parts of a road network, at certain times, such as when a road is likely to be used by school buses.

When considering schemes to control LGVs the local authority should bear in mind the need to maintain a balance between the protection of the community against the effects of heavy lorry traffic on one hand, and on the other, the maintenance of an effective road freight distribution system essential to a healthy local economy.

Seat Belt Requirements

Coaches and minibuses are required to be fitted with seat belts when carrying 3 or more children, aged 3 or over but under the age of 16, on organised school trips. In this context "organised trips" includes journeys when children are being carried between school and home and on school outings. The Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986 (as amended) require that a forward facing seat with a minimum of a lap belt must be available to every child travelling in these circumstances. For vehicles first used after 1 October 2001, rearward facing seats may also be used. In minibuses with an unladen weight of 2,540 kgs or less, seat belts, where fitted, must be worn and the driver is responsible for ensuring that pupils under the age of 14 wear them. For larger minibuses and coaches, while there is no legal responsibility for the driver, passenger or any supervisor to ensure that seat belts are worn, education authorities will wish to consider how they might best encourage pupils to wear seat belts for their own comfort and safety.

For the purpose of the regulations a "minibus" is defined as a motor vehicle which is constructed or adapted to carry more than 8 but not more than 16 seated passengers in addition to the driver and a "coach" is defined as a "large bus with a maximum gross weight of more than 7.5 tonnes and with a maximum speed exceeding 60 mph". These regulations apply to :-

  • all minibuses used from 10 February 1997
  • all coaches used from 10 February 1997; if they were registered on or after 1 October 1988
  • all coaches used from 10 February 1998; if they were registered before 1 October 1988

Since October 1, 2001, seat belts have been required in the forward and rearward facing seats of all new minibuses, coaches and buses (apart from those specifically designed for urban use with standing passengers). The requirements are :

  • minibuses and buses with a gross weight of 3500 kg or less - 3 point belt in forward facing seats and 3 point belt or retractable lap belts in rearward facing seats;
  • minibuses and buses with gross weight of more than 3500 kg - 3 point belts or retractable lap belts in forward and rearward facing seats; and
  • coaches - 3 point belt or retractable lap belt in all forward and rearward facing seats.

A guide to the seat belt requirements in minibuses, coaches and other buses is available on the Department for Transport website at: www.roads.dft.gov.uk/vehicle/standard/consum/02.htm.

Vehicle operators should ensure they comply with existing statutory requirements and education authorities will wish to satisfy themselves on that point. When setting the terms of contracts with bus and coach operators, authorities will wish to consider whether to require that vehicles are fitted with 3 point seat belts rather than the minimum statutory requirement of lap belts.


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Phone: +44 (0)8457 741 741
or +44 (0)131 556 8400

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