It’s a journey – best practice tips from an OSHC service on safe transportation

Careful planning, effective communication and digital counters are key to Tabatinga Tweed Head’s safe transportation practices.

Three smiling school-aged children are seated on a bus. They each wear lap sash seat belts. Three smiling school-aged children are seated on a bus. They each wear lap sash seat belts.
Image: Children are encouraged to share their feedback and have a voice in shaping Tabatinga Tweed Heads’ safe transportation policies and procedures.

With a fleet of 7 buses that transport up to 90 children twice daily, Tabatinga Tweed Heads understands the critical role clear policies, procedures and communication play in keeping children safe while engaging in transport activities.

As Sarah Budden, director of the outside school hours care (OSHC) service, reflected: “This is probably one of the highest risk things that we're going to do as a service, so getting it right is so important.”

The OSHC service owns one coach and 6 minibuses, which transport children to and from 10 schools in the area. The Tabatinga team also use the buses for excursions and extra-curricular activities, including swimming and surfing lessons, and a local Caring for Country program.

Since it began providing transport in 2017, Tabatinga Tweed Heads has treated its fleet of buses as an extension of the service and part of the children’s daily routine, rather than simply a means to get from A to B. As a result, risk management principles and safe transportation practices are firmly embedded within the bus environment and transport-related activities. Safety is paramount and providing opportunities for fun, learning and connection is important for staff and children, too.

Pre-travel prep

Preparing several buses and bus runs for approximately 90 children twice a day is a big operation. It’s a task that must be done with precision – to ensure the safety of children, while also transporting them where they need to be in the most efficient way possible.

To ensure its staff are prepared and equipped with all the information and resources they need while providing transport, including what to do when the unexpected arises, Tabatinga Tweed Heads has developed a suite of comprehensive policies and procedures for educators. This includes daily, weekly, monthly and yearly safety and maintenance checklists to confirm, for example, whether all drivers’ licences are valid and active, and the vehicles are registered and roadworthy.

Clipboard folders with the policies and procedures, checklists, roll call sheets and risk assessments with emergency response flow charts are stored in each of the buses and on-site at the service. They also contain key school and family contacts, children’s medical management plans, plus activities for children.

As Sarah explained, “The policies and procedures are actually a step-by-step guide for educators, from the time they get out [on a bus run] to the time they get back, on what to do.”

Building even the smallest steps, such as checking that children hold the handrail when hopping on the bus, helps make the routine everyday practice for staff.

“By going through the checklist each day, the staff are actually keeping us compliant,” the service director shared. “That's why we've put so much into that checklist, because then every single day everyone knows who's responsible for what and that everything is good to go. If there was an emergency, someone could just grab that folder and know exactly what's going on.”

Essential tools

Sarah and her team use the Apple Maps and Live Traffic NSW apps each day to determine the fastest, safest route between schools, the service and activity locations. They check these apps before each bus run for an update on conditions and any hazards so they can adjust their routes accordingly.

“We've got 62 documented runs for before and after school care,” Sarah explained. “They're made up of the combinations of schools and the safest routes, so for every route there is an alternative and they've all been risk assessed.”

A clicker counter is another must-have for Tabatinga staff, who use the handy gadgets when conducting head counts and physically checking that all children have disembarked the bus, which is one step in their 2-person check.

Tabatinga Tweed Heads also accesses local flood maps to determine what areas may present risks and hazards during extreme weather events. The service’s bus driver, a former school bus driver from the area, and local mechanics also provide invaluable route planning and road safety advice.

Four minibuses are parked side by side the outdoor grass. The minibuses are covered in brightly coloured rainforest-themed cartoon artwork. Four minibuses are parked side by side the outdoor grass. The minibuses are covered in brightly coloured rainforest-themed cartoon artwork.
Image: Tabatinga Tweed Heads has 7 buses in its fleet, including one coach and 6 minibuses, which the service uses to transport up to 90 children daily.

Support for new staff

Educators who are new to Tabatinga Tweed Heads must complete a thorough induction process and training before transporting children.

“We have a whole day to go through policies and procedures,” Sarah said, when explaining the induction process. “We then do a couple of dry runs, which is without children, before doing some buddy runs. Once we feel confident, we have that bus driver drive to a school in one of our little buses and have a more experienced bus driver follow them on the same route until they’re really confident.”

Ongoing reflection

Reflecting on and refining its safe transport policies and practices is an ongoing process for Tabatinga Tweed Heads. Team members share their own experiences and learnings, as well as feedback from children and families, as part of the reflective cycle and discussing improvements that are needed. These reflective discussions take place during regular touchpoints, such as the team’s mini meetings or group chat, and more formal meetings when the team comes together to reflect on specific quality areas and related service policies and procedures.

The OSHC service also regularly draws on insights and guidance from the NSW Regulatory Authority and other government agencies, peak bodies and road safety research to inform its policies and procedures.

Children and their families have a voice in shaping Tabatinga’s service practice and are encouraged to provide feedback on all aspects of its transport activities.

“We've let the children pretty much come up with the rules for bus safety and just guided them through that process,” Sarah shared as an example. “It's making sure that the kids are involved in the process, that the staff are involved in the process, that the families are involved in the process.”

  • Do your research. Seek guidance from national and state authorities, such as Transport for NSW, Kids and Traffic, and the NSW Department of Education. Look up Australian Standards and research relating to child car seats and restraints, or crash test studies before choosing a vehicle.
  • Work with families from the time of enrolment to determine if there are any factors that impact their child while being transported.
  • Get a clicker counter!
  • Make sure your safe transportation policies, procedures and other critical information (including key contacts and emergency information) are readily available to your staff while they’re on a bus run.
  • When preparing risk assessments, drive every route. Note down all potential hazards, including potholes, and traffic warning signs and where they are located along the route.
  • If you’re already providing bus runs, seek feedback from children. Questions you might ask include:
    • How do you feel when you’re in the bus?
    • Are there any corners you think are scary?
  • Give children the opportunity to be involved in decision-making. Prior to transport activities, consider asking them questions like:
    • Where do you want to sit in the bus?
    • What do you want to be doing on the bus? What's fun? What's safe?
    • If you sit in that area, is it going to distract the driver?
    • If you're sitting right behind the driver, then what should we do to make sure the drivers not distracted?
    • Is that activity that you'd like to do safe, or is that something that we should probably look at doing in the centre?
  • Make sure you count children as they embark and disembark the bus. Know who your children are. Mark your rolls. Do an extra roll call, if needed. You can never be overcautious.
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