Nationwide training launched to close safeguarding loophole around UK’s most vulnerable children

For the first time ever, taxi drivers can access nationwide standardised training to improve pupil safeguarding for children with special educational needs.
The fully accredited online programme by Spectrum Courses offers taxi drivers and pupil escorts a professional qualification to prove they are competent and knowledgeable to carry out the work.

Several thousand children with SEN and additional needs travel to and from school by taxi or minibus, paid for by local authorities. The school contract work is attractive to drivers because it offers a regular, guaranteed income.

In 2015/16 more than £370 million of public money was spent on transporting SEN children to and from their schools. Although drivers are required to have DBS checks, which monitor their criminal record, there is currently a safeguarding loophole whereby drivers on school contracts are not legally required to undertake any training, and between 2015/16 some local councils reported more than 1000 safeguarding incidents during school journeys.

Education Consultant and SEN expert, Jacinta Barnard, says: “This is the first standardised training and it is absolutely vital in ensuring the safety of the children and their drivers.

“These students are some of the most vulnerable children in our society and the journey to and from school can be one of the most stressful parts of their day. We’ve seen situations escalate into serious incidents in the past due to a dire lack of special needs training.”

The courses help drivers to understand different types of special needs, their associated behaviours and how to safeguard children in their cabs and minibuses. The courses cover a variety of real-life scenarios that will help drivers to understand children who have a range of special needs, including Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s, Attachment Disorders and Learning Difficulties. They also provide training for drivers on how to handle challenging safeguarding situations, including learning how to recognise potential child abuse, and where to go for additional help and support.

Lainey Miller’s son, Tony, has Autism and was non-verbal until the age of 9. Lainey, who is also Chair of Autism Bedfordshire, explains: ’My son communicated via Makaton using signs and symbols but there were occasions when his school driver couldn’t communicate with him because they didn’t understand his needs. He would become distressed and agitated when they didn’t understand he needed the toilet. There were also occasions when Tony would become agitated because someone had laughed too loudly or got too close to his personal space – situations that could have been avoided if those around him understood more about autism. As a parent, knowing that your child is being transported by someone who fully understands their needs and their behaviours is reassuring.

“I firmly believe that training should become mandatory to protect these vulnerable children and prevent unnecessary upset for them and their drivers and escorts alike. Spectrum Courses offer peace of mind for parents but, more importantly, they help to give our children a voice by enabling others to understand and communicate effectively with them.”

Politically, it’s accepted that there is a desperate need for nationwide standardised training. Tom Pursglove, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, says Spectrum Courses will help local authorities to address the problem.

“The accredited online courses for taxi drivers and pupil escorts provide, for the first time, a national training programme which can be implemented across all local authority areas. It will give reassurance to parents and carers, and ensure greater professionalism amongst taxi drivers and pupil escorts. I have met Spectrum and support this private sector initiative, which should improve standards and reduce public sector training costs in this particular area. I want every parent to be confident that their children with special educational needs will be taken safely and professionally to, and from, school, by taxi drivers who’re properly qualified to transport them.”

Spectrum Courses Director, Jane Saggers, adds: “Children spend up to eight hours each week with their taxi drivers and yet no standardised training platform exists. The potential safeguarding issues around that are quite frightening.

“We have initiated these courses to protect the taxi drivers, pupil escorts and improve the situation for the vulnerable children who’re being transported to and from school, sometimes on journeys which take an hour each way.

“When SEN school transport works well, it can have a huge influence on the child’s day, but it is failing on too many occasions for these vulnerable groups.

“Our courses are key to improving safety and success for everyone. We hope that it will become mandatory for all school taxi drivers and escorts.”

Spectrum Courses are available for both drivers and escorts. For more information or to enrol in a course, please visit: www.spectrumcourses.co.uk

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