Birmingham City Council’s report into what went wrong with DBS checking for their school transport contractors was released in December 2020 but raises more questions than it answers. Parents are still raising concerns about the city’s whole school transport system, so what exactly has gone wrong, and what is being done to resolve it?
“Systemic Failure” of System
The Birmingham School Transport system is mainly used by children with additional needs, who require transport to special schools which are often located quite some distance from their home addresses. At the start of the school term in September 2020, there were a number of serious safeguarding issues such as children being dropped off at the wrong schools, taxis not arriving, or drivers being late to collect children to take them home at the end of the school day. Around 3,500 children across the city use transport to get to school every day, and although not every child was caught up in the failure, there was sufficient concern to launch a full enquiry. The initial report into what went wrong was published just before Christmas, with a wide range of recommendations to ensure a similar thing can’t happen again in the future.
One of the other main concerns raised apart from the system’s general disorganisation were specific issues around DBS checking for the members of staff driving the taxis. All taxi drivers require enhanced disclosure checks through the Disclosure and Barring Service to ensure that they are safe to be alone in a vehicle with vulnerable children. It’s not that in Birmingham these checks weren’t being carried out; the enquiry found that record keeping was patchy, and that the company contracted to provide home to school transport simply couldn’t provide the detailed information required about what drivers had been checked, and when. Record keeping is essential in order for any company to prove that they have understood their safeguarding responsibilities. OFSTED and other bodies which regulate safeguarding aren’t just going to take your word for it.
One school had to close temporarily in September after students experienced such severe issues getting to and from school. This has now been resolved, and Birmingham City Council was at pains to point out that the percentage of families using the school transport system and experiencing issues was very small. The logistical issues of making sure that children are collected, taken to the correct school, and picked up at the end of the day appear to have been solved too, with the Council assuring parents that it is looking at what has gone wrong and making sure it can’t happen again. Responsibility for DBS checking of staff lies with the individual taxi firms concerned, but the council does say that it will be providing overall guidance to companies and making sure that they are completely up to speed with what they need to be doing. The Council also reiterates their commitment to safeguarding for children using the home to school transport service.