A father whose 11-year-old son took his own life after being bullied on the school bus is calling for better protection and support for students.
Ben Vodden hanged himself in his bedroom on December 12, 2006, after he became the victim of sustained bullying on his dedicated school bus service in West Sussex.
Now his father Paul has published a report into the problem of bullying on dedicated school buses which warns that many incidents of long-term bullying start on the school bus and that not enough is done to protect and support victims.
The Vodden Report, which has been funded by the Diana Award charity, is based on the accounts of 268 young people who have been bullied on their school buses.
It finds that this kind of bullying generally begins in year 7, with 77 of the 268 stating that the victimisation continued for more than a year. Thirty one per cent of the victims said that the bullying first began on the school bus.
The report also finds that of the incidents reported, in 43 cases the respondents said that the drivers knew the bullying was taking place with the majority saying that the driver did not seem to care.
In a small number of cases the driver was said to have been helpful in tackling the problem, although in 17 cases it was reported that the drivers had actually joined in the bullying behaviour.
Thirty of the respondents reported self-harming as a result of the bullying, while 24 said they had considered suicide. A third of them said that they did not know where to find help or support.
The report, which has been presented to education minister Elizabeth Truss, calls for better training for school bus drivers so that they know how to react in situations when bullying occurs and to ensure that they do not unintentionally become involved in the bullying. It also wants to see a trained adult (other than the driver) provided for all dedicated school buses.
The report states: “The findings indicate that there is a proven risk of school bus drivers reacting inappropriately towards the young people in their charge. At the least they may fail to notice or to report peer bullying, thus leaving vulnerable children without a responsible adult to turn to, or at worst, either through ignorance or wilful intent, they may themselves take part in acts of bullying.”
Other ideas in the report include peer-mentoring or “bus buddy” schemes which would partner older students with younger pupils to help prevent poor behaviour. It also says that specific policies for bus bullying should be included in a school’s overall bullying policy and suggests the use of CCTV as a deterrent.
Mr Vodden added: “The situation on the dedicated school bus is by its nature potentially problematic as far as bullying is concerned. Children are placed on a school bus in a group over the composition of which they have no choice.
“There is no formal supervision and virtually no opportunity of avoiding conflict situations. This report reveals that the school bus journey is a potential environment for bullying which can quickly escalate and there is a lack of support for victims – this needs to be urgently addressed.”
Tessy Ojo, CEO of the Diana Award, added: “We know from our work on the ground that bullying on journeys to and from school remains a concern. This is why the Diana Award, in partnership with the Department for Education, is committed to training and empowering more than 10,000 young people to keep themselves safe online and offline, through our Anti-bullying Ambassadors Programme.
“We welcome the recommendations of this report and in particular would like to see more young people and responsible adults empowered to support each other.’’ CAPTION: No more: Paul Vodden’s anti-bullying campaign (above) was sparked when his son Ben (top) took his own life in 2006 after being bullied on his school bus