It’s a problem that should been consigned to history several years ago with a simple change in legislation.
But a chance meeting with a PE department in Manchester has caused us to revisit the dilemma of school sport minibus travel.
We discovered that out of their six-strong PE department, just one of them is qualified to drive the school minibus to and from sports fixtures meaning that many have to be cancelled and others just don’t get arranged at all.
We thought this problem was getting better – but it appears the opposite is the case. It’s a predicament that is still affecting hundreds of schools up and down the country.
Thanks to some rather misplaced and archaic Government legislation, teachers who passed their driving test before January 1 1997 are free to drive minibuses without any extra qualifications – but those who passed after that date are required to have a D1 qualification.
Sadly this means that year on year, more and more PE teachers don’t have this qualification meaning fewer of them in departments are eligible to drive minibuses.
Unfortunately, while a fortunate few - especially those in the independent sector - can afford to send their staff on these expensive and time-consuming courses - fewer and fewer schools are able to afford to pay for the course or give their teachers time off to do it.
This means more and more sports fixtures are being compromised – just one more hurdle for competitive sport in schools to overcome.
Staff not having the correct D1 category driving licence is a huge issue for many sports departments such as at Walhampton School in Hampshire.
Director of sport Oliver Elliott said: “It costs us as a school a significant amount to pay for external drivers and I have had to reduce the number of matches accordingly.”
At Telford Park School in Shropshire, head of PE Matt Phillips described the problem as “a big issue.”
He added: “We struggle to get to all our fixtures as the bus we have can’t be driven by all staff. We have asked for a lighter weight bus to be purchased but the school can’t afford it.
“We have now agreed that one member of staff can do the D1 test at great expense to the school.
Legislation really needs to be changed.”
At Marshland High School in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, Paul Swinburn has been head of PE for 21 years and says: “This is a massive issue.
“Fixtures are all but vanishing at a time where senior managers are saying they want more than just exam results and want children to do things for school.
“We have six PE teachers in school and only two can drive. The school had to pay out more than £1000 for one person to qualify.
“It’s all but killed our sports fixtures. Only two sports really take place now and massive budget cuts mean we cannot now afford coaches to transport us anywhere.
“We keep asking for teachers to take the test but the school cannot afford to put them through. Other schools are also facing the same problem in the district meaning they cannot come to us either.
“What we need is either funding to take the test (or for more coaches) or the government needs to relax the laws.”
At Whitby High School in Cheshire, Ian Murray oversees a PE department with seven members of staff – but only two can drive their large (17 seater) minibus.
Ian says: “This seriously limits the amount of fixtures that we can attend because we simply cannot get the students to the fixtures without paying for coaches which is either too expensive or logistically impossible due to time-constraints.
“Fixtures can be arranged and rearranged at relatively short notice but coach companies require bookings well in advance.
“The school is prepared for us to update our licences but it means arranging for a medical exam, studying for the theory test, practising for the practical driving test, arranging to take both the theory and the practical test, organising a suitable time to take the tests within school time when cover is limited or unavailable – then paying for all of the above. It is an extremely difficult situation.”
Martin High School in Leicestershire is a small secondary school with 750 students on role but they don't have a minibus because they can’t afford the initial outlay to buy or hire one.
Aaron Black, head of PE, says: “We often use coach companies to transport us to fixtures but this works out to be over £140 for a return journey and is being flagged up by senior leaders.
“We are sometimes charged additional payment for late cancellation (due to fixtures being rained off for example - or other teams pulling out) and also charged if our fixtures over run (late kick off/extra time etc).
“The issue regarding minibus use is that we do not have anybody who is qualified to drive one. The school can't warrant the money being spent on a minibus, its upkeep and to give members of the department the necessary time and funding to gain the driving qualification.
“I've tallied up the total spend on fixtures as we try to attend everything but with limited facilities we often find we have to travel and we spend over £18,000 a year on fixtures. Do we just cancel fixtures for a year and save the money for a minibus?
At Neale Wade Academy in Cambridgeshire, the PE department are forced to hire lots of coaches to fulfil fixtures due to a shortage of qualified driver/teachers.
James Crawley, head of PE, explained: “What we need are easier minibus licences for teachers. We have had some money to put people through the D1 assessment but this is such a long and difficult process and two members of staff who started 18 months ago still haven’t finished.”
Equally frustrated is Andy Kenward, director of sport at St Olave’s Grammar School in Kent where two out of five of the staff can drive their 17-seater bus.
“We also have a 15-seater which helps, but recently I needed to drive the 17 seater as the coach of the team cannot,” he said.
“Therefore my practice after school was cancelled and my colleague did not get to coach his team at the match. It’s very frustrating and definitely time for change to ensure more opportunities for pupils. I just cannot fathom why this has not been changed already.”
In the absence of minibuses, private hire coaches are the go-to solution at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, West Yorkshire - but the costly alternative is having a detrimental effect on fixtures.
Dave Curtis, head of PE, explained: “We use coach hire but ran out of a transport budget midway through the summer term. That transport budget is topped up by parental contributions already. Last year we had to cancel all away rounders, cricket and athletics fixtures from June onwards.”
Clare Cox, head of PE at Davison High School in Worthing, is equally frustrated and has urged the Government to scrap the D1 legislation altogether.
She insists: “I am no more capable of driving a bus than the person who is younger than me and didn't get the D1 qualification automatically on their licence.
“We have two D1 teachers in our department and three drivers without so the D1 drivers have to take up most of the slack with fixtures which is sometimes an issue.
“We have two minibuses at school and one is much lighter than the other which means non D1 drivers can drive it. They do have to take the county driving assessment theory and practical test though.”
Down in London, confusion reigns at Highgate Wood School with mixed messages the order of the day.
Phil Adams, head of PE, said: “Here in Haringey, we were eligible (being a Haringey employee) to take the ‘Haringey Council authorised driver’ test. Until recently there was a contact within the council who would organise the tests for staff.
“But due to redundancies there, this person doesn’t exist and it’s impossible to find out who the new person is or if the department even exists anymore. Therefore all my new staff cannot take the test and the D1 is too expensive.”
It’s a similar scenario at Muswell Hill’s Fortismere School, according to head of PE Simon Cox, who insists: “I think it’s great that this is being highlighted as the problem has not gone away.
“The guidance is loose at best and very unclear, rather at the discretion of the school as to how it is interpreted. This has caused conflict locally with some schools going by the letter of the law and some not.
“In our school we have only one member of staff who is not licensed thankfully but it does cause issues as, when she has away matches, they are either cancelled or someone has to go with her; impacting on other activities.
“Locally some schools have resorted to using public transport which results in very lengthy waits after school for matches to start and is putting parents, students and staff off
“Other schools locally have also insisted that two members of staff go on each away fixture and, whilst I recognise the benefits this has for safeguarding in particular, it does mean that other activities cannot go ahead. Luckily we are not yet in that position at our school.”
At Newham Sixth Form College, they would love to invest in a minibus if the red tape didn’t get in the way.
Beth Harris, sports academy manager and chair of the AoC Sport London Operations Group, explained: “We do not own any minibuses and only one member of our staff has the relevant applicable section on his licence.
“As such, instead of spending thousands to get staff qualified and then purchasing buses as well, we spend £14,000 per year on hiring minibuses with drivers to attend all of our competitive sports fixtures.
“But if the driving license wasn’t an issue, then we would look to invest in our own buses.”
In west London, sports fixtures are under pressure because of the transport issues, according to Alison McGrandles, head of PE at Teddington School.
And larger team squads mean purchasing a smaller minibuses with less red-tape for drivers isn’t an option.
She said: “This is a massive problem as it cuts down on who can take sporting fixtures and increases time on staff looking for or organising a parent to drive.
“Several fixtures across the borough are being cancelled and pressure is then being put on schools that have drivers to take all away fixtures.
“Our minibus is over 3.5 tonnes and has 16/17 seats so that we can transport rugby teams. We need to move to a position where heavier minibuses are allowed to be used by PE staff on a permit basis and the DVLA needs to stop using schools as a money-making scheme.”
In the north west, Alexandra Lodge, head of PE at Wirral Grammar School for Girls has NO members of her department qualified to drive the school minibus.
“This causes major problems for us when it comes to fixtures as it is a struggle to get anyone to drive the minibus during school hours as anyone who is qualified in needed in school,” she said.
“After school is also difficult as it relies on people's goodwill to give up a couple of hours of their time and many teachers simply aren’t able to do this.
“Training to pass the minibus test is time consuming and expensive. I had some lessons two years ago but then failed the reversing element of the test (although my driving was fine).
“I teach a full timetable and have practices every lunchtime and after school. There is simply not time to fit in minibus lessons as well. I am planning on re-taking the test at some point but feel that I need to have some more lessons due to the expense of the test.
“The DVLA also make life very difficult asking that the test is taken in a bus with a spirometer (which most school minibuses do not have) and therefore we have to hire a minibus which does, at an extra cost.
“Even if I was to pass the test I would still be the only member of the PE department who could drive the minibus and therefore I would have to attend all of the fixtures.
“On many occasions we have had to hire a bus and a driver at a great expensive to the school. Luckily we have a headteacher who is very supportive of PE and allows us to do this, even in a time of tight budgets.
“Changing the law would allow a lot more flexibility. We would be able to play more fixtures much more regularly. All we're trying to do is get kids active and involved.”
At Caistor Grammar School in Lincolnshire, confusion over the issue means head of PE Andy Shutes supports any staff who does not wish to drive their minibus.
He said: “The unions strongly advise that staff do not drive students in a minibus. The responsibility they feel should be placed on a professional driver not a sports teacher.
“Also, any issues that occur on a minibus will fall on the shoulders of the driver/teacher and, after a full day of teaching I would strongly advise and voice my opinion that a teacher should not place themselves into this delicate position.”
Elsewhere in Lincolnshire, Bourne Grammar School have paid for three teachers to take the costly D1 assessment. Unfortunately one left and another gave up after failing the test three times.
Chris Ray, director of PE and sport, said: “The school overall is very supportive and the headteacher recognises the importance of sport but the bus situation has impacted us and is becoming an increasing problem.”
Unfortunately the situation doesn’t appear any better in Northern Ireland, at least according Maureen McCullough, head of PE at Loreto College in Coleraine.
“Sadly it's even worse,” she maintained. “Even staff with D1 on their licence, ie driving pre-1997, need to do an extra test if driving for school, even though we don't get paid for it. This only came in this year and I've been driving school minibuses since 1983.
“It is a crazy change in the law that is either costing schools a fortune or school sport is suffering. It is going to ruin goodwill, volunteering and primarily schools’ after-schools competition.”
Likewise in Wales, the issue is literally driving staff mad as Gwenan Price, from Cardiff’s Ysgol Bro Edern explained.
She said: “It is a massive problem. Each fixture costs between £100-£200 for a coach hire but it is getting harder to book a bus for the end of the day resulting in either teachers and pupils missing lessons. Often, we have to cancel the fixture due to this.
“The D1 qualification takes ages, a lot of money and effort to complete. As a teacher I don't actually have time to study the extensive theory side of the course.. I have to also miss work to have a medical.”
Steve Reed, head of PE at Caldicot School in Monmouthshire, agrees. “For us, only one member of staff would be eligible to drive a minibus – if we had one,” he said.
“The school did not replace it ten years ago but paid for buses to fixtures. Over the years, with decreasing funding, the amount of money and therefore fixtures have had to decrease.
“Last year we had £4800 for transport but this year we have NO money to play away fixtures.
Plus Monmouthshire have a second adult policy in a minibus or car for staff transporting pupils. This is killing inter-school sport.”
Despite the doom and gloom, the good news is some schools do appear to be finding ways around the quandary - like Queen Elizabeth’s Girls School in Barnet in Hertfordshire.
Head of PE Ceri Matty explained: “If the minibus is under 3.5 tonnes (lighter weight) staff can drive them under the 1997 onwards licence.
“We have two 14-seater minibuses that are under 3.5 tonnes. We had to get a plaque put into them to prove they were tested under the weight limit for the licence.”
It’s a similar picture at Mildenhall College Academy in Bury St Edmonds where head of PE Oliver Hughes says things have improved over the last few years.
He explained: “We are a team of seven and when I joined the school a few years ago it presented a big problem.
“Two of the team were old enough to have D1 entitlement. The remainder weren't. The school hired minibus drivers where possible to support the fixtures programme but on a number of occasions we had to rearrange or cancel fixtures because drivers were not available.
“We then acquired a lightweight minibus enabling all staff in the faculty to drive the bus. We have all been put through a much shorter, county run driving assessment which lasts three years.
“I think the cost to the school for the assessor was approximately £400 and ten staff were put through the assessment. This has not only proven to assist the PE department with fixtures but also other faculties that have arranged extracurricular activities for up to 15 students.”
Colin Henderson, co-director of sport at Highgate School in London, says one way that larger, 17-seater minibuses can be driver by most teachers is by having a disabled access ramp fitted thereby reclassifying the bus as a disabled access vehicle.
But this brings with it another added cost not to mention losing an extra seat to the detriment of larger squads.
He said: “The real problem is asking teachers to take responsibility for a minibus full of pupils on their own, as it comes down to how confident the individuals are in managing that situation, especially when en-route to more distant destinations.”
At Twickenham School, head of PE David Bryan has taken steps to overcome the issue in recent years.
He explains: “It used to be a massive problem as only two members of staff in the whole school could drive the buses for fixtures or school trips.
“We used to have to timetable matches to the teacher rather than the set date. It also meant that teams were taken by non-specialists in that sport. I had to take netball fixtures while female members were taking boys rugby etc.
“Recently the school invested in a new minibus that you do not need a D1 licence to drive. We have got a bus that is under the weight category so that anyone with a driver’s licence can drive.
“We have gone from two very old 17-seater buses (where the D1 was needed) to one new bus. Of course the issue now is that only one fixture can take place at one time or two trips need to be done.
“It is pointless schools having minibuses that teachers or support staff cannot drive. Either a designated driver needs to be employed so it is not the responsibility of teachers to drive 16 pupils long distances or the government or car companies offer a scrappage/swap/replacement scheme to bring buses in that are lighter. But both options require a cost.”
Chase High School in Essex have also gone down the smaller minibus route – with positive results.
Paul Copsey, head of PE, explained: “You can drive the lighter minibus with a Midas qualification (a cheaper one-day course) as long as you are 25 and have held a valid driving licence for five years.
“We had a local supplier run the course in our school and got five staff qualified. We were hiring a minibus that we downsized to a lighter weight.”
It’s a situation backed by Naida Burton, director of sport at Headington School in Oxford.
She said: “We currently have a number of minibus drivers within school who are only driving on a (normal) B1 license because of the size and weight of bus that we purchased.
“On top of that the county council in Oxfordshire also do an assessment to allow drivers to become county registered. The drivers have to have been driving for a minimum of three years and be over the age of 21.
“This has resulted in us being able to run a competitive fixtures program as almost all members of the department are running off standard driving licences.”
Meanwhile Glenn Tyreman, head of PE at Samuel Cody School in Farnborough, Hampshire, reckons schools can benefit from thinking outside the box.
“He said: “We bought a smaller bus which allows people who passed after 1997 to drive it. It’s not a perfect solution but it works for us.
“Also we are lucky to have lots of drivers. It doesn't just have to be PE staff driving does it? Can parents drive the minibus or support staff members?”
Unfortunately the smaller, lighter minibus route doesn’t work for everyone, especially those with rugby teams or bigger squads.
Dominic Pike, from Cheam School in Hampshire, explained: “We have tried to get smaller minibuses to compensate but they (obviously) take fewer pupils.
“This is an issue that is getting bigger each year with younger staff not having the D1 qualification and the cost/logistics of a course nigh on impossible.
“We still use a lot of coaches but often these are a bit of a waste and minibuses would be more suitable and convenient. We sadly don't always have that as an option though.
“What we need is a simple, 17-seater test to allow those experienced minibus drivers the opportunity to drive a bigger bus. or just scrap the D1 altogether otherwise things are only going to get worse.
“Thank you for raising the topic. I thought it was just us that were affected.”
Minibus companies across the country say they are aware of the problems facing sports departments especially and welcome enquiries from any schools.
A spokesman for the School Minibus Company said: “Government legislation on school minibuses can often be confusing and unclear. With it becoming crucial for schools to now have their own transport, it’s important to understand the law when you’re looking to buy or lease a minibus.
“School Minibus Company, the UK’s leading supplier of minibuses, and Allied Fleet, the UK’s leading specialist vehicle manufacturer, work in partnership to offer schools and academies a wide range of minibuses including the Citroen Flexilite™.
“Our friendly team are on hand to help you understand minibus safety obligations and advise on the best option for your school. Our competitive contract-hire packages include maintenance, service and repairs and we can even help with insurance.”
For more details contact Lorraine Shaw on 01273 005193 or email [email protected]
(Is this an issue that affects your school and your sports programme? Email [email protected] with your concerns)
Driving teachers mad – the great school minibus debate