BEREAVED parents said they are appalled at the government’s decision not to review the law around school minibuses following the death of their daughter.
Liz and Steve Fitzgerald’s 13-year-old daughter Clare was among 12 schoolchildren and their teacher who were killed in an horrific crash on the M40 near the Longbridge Roundabout in 1993.
Clare was one of 14 pupils from Hagley High School on board a minibus being driven by their teacher when it smashed into a road maintenance vehicle on the hard shoulder just after midnight on November 18.
The inquest concluded the teacher most probably fell asleep at the wheel after teaching, driving and supervising for approximately 16 and a half hours.
But Claire’s parents believe the causes of the accident have yet to be addressed and after three decades of waiting for action decided to take matters into their own hands.
To coincide with the 30th anniversary of the crash last November, the couple called for clear laws on the operation of minibuses for all schools.
Many private schools are required by law to have an Operators Licence. This means that any minibus used is driven by a trained driver and not a teacher.
In contrast, state schools are covered by regulations which are much less well defined and frequently open to misinterpretation and error, resulting in poorer safeguards for pupils and drivers.
In the couple’s view there are two simple alternatives – for all school minibus to operate under an Operator’s Licence or to not use minibuses at all.
But the Secretary of State for Transport confirmed this week that the government has no plans to make changes to the Transport Act Section 19 and 22. This means that individuals, including teachers, can continue to drive minibuses without any specialist training, and schools operating minibuses are exempt from Operator’s License requirements.
The couple said: “We are appalled to hear that the government are unwilling to consider changes to the Transport Act 1985 Section 19 and 22 permit schemes for schools.
“As we said when we launched our Call to Action of November 16 last year, the law and regulations which govern school minibus transport is both unjust and confusing. It’s potentially unsafe for the pupils and staff involved and also the general public. The current law is not fit for purpose.”
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary for teacher’s union NASUWT, added: “There is no end to the list of responsibilities this government will pile upon teachers. It is dangerous to ask a teacher to drive a minibus when they only have a driver’s license. It is doubly dangerous to ask them to drive long distances after they have already completed their working day at school.
“NASUWT will continue to campaign for safe and secure transport for teachers and pupils, and for teachers to be allowed to concentrate on teaching – not driving.”