Page last updated at 11:21 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 12:21 UK

Satellite tracking for school bus

A school coach (generic)
Parents can log onto a website to track their children on the school bus

Parents in North Wales will be able to use satellite tracking to check their children are on the school bus, as part of a new pilot project.

The smart card scheme STAR is part of a wider initiative aimed at improving behaviour on school transport.

Pupils will swipe a card as they get on buses. It will help schools and parents track them to ensure attendance while drivers can pinpoint any bad behaviour.

The scheme is being trialled across six counties in north Wales.

The project's leader Peter Daniels said: "We think this is the first (such scheme) in Britain."

The STAR scheme is part of the Zoon project, supported by the Welsh Assembly Government, which is designed to curb the growing problem of anti-social behaviour on journeys to school.

The project, being launched later at Mold Alun School in Mold, Flintshire, will be headed up by Denbighshire council.

Zoom's key objective is to create a level of understanding for year 7, 8 and 9 pupils so that they recognise the good behaviour expected from them when using school transport, the council explained.

We don't believe it is (spying on the children). We think it is a way of ensuring that the system works a lot better
Peter Daniels, Denbighshire Council

The scheme will run for one year and, if successful, could be rolled out across Wales as early as the latter half of 2010.

Peter Daniels, transport manager at Denbighshire council and head of the Zoom project, commented: "We're trying to make sure that when pupils get to school they can learn and learn well and one way to ensure that is to make sure that travelling into school is a good experience for them.

"So where it isn't, we're going to try and tighten up on that. And rather than react to problems, we are trying to influence things before they start."

Elements of the scheme include the clocking on and off GPS system STAR, covert bus monitors aged 14 and above called Bus Angels, and training aimed at helping bus drivers cope with anti-social behaviour.

A cohesive support strategy linking schools, transport departments, bus companies and the police will also be introduced.

Mr Daniels explained how the STAR project would work.

"It's very much like the scheme in London where an Oystercard user boards a bus and taps in and then taps out when he or she gets off. Using GPS tracking, [parents] will know exactly where their pupils are on the bus.

"It will help support the schools, by ensuring that pupils actually get into school. They know they've been on the bus and can track them through the day and back home again," he said.

"And it also helps to support drivers too. If there are any issues on the bus then the drivers... will be able to pick a picture (from a small screen in front of him) of any pupil who he feels is perhaps misbehaving and send a report through very quickly both to the school and to the local authorities."

Tested

Mr Daniels denied that Zoom represented an infringement of children's right to privacy.

"We don't believe it is (spying on the children)," he said. "We think it is a way of ensuring that the system works a lot better.

"The system is actually very secure. There's no information on the cards that the pupils will be given themselves. It's all held on a database and it's obviously governed by data protection.

"This is just one element of a number of issues that we are trying to tackle in a rather proactive way."

Mr Daniels explained that the undercover Bus Angels scheme had already been tested elsewhere in Britain.

"If the Angel sees a problem they report the matter to the head teacher first hand, rather than wait for instance for reports to come through via parents the next day," he said.

"We like to hear about it straight away. This is something that's been tried elsewhere in Britain and it's been proven to work.

"In Denbighshire there are very few buses that cause us problems but there are isolated pockets and I think that's the case throughout North Wales."



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