The Vodden Campaign
The Vodden Family's son, Ben, took his own life when he could no longer cope with being bullied on his school bus. The late Paul Vodden campaigned for years to make the bus and coach industry more aware of the issues drivers face on the school run and carried out a survey amongst drivers. For a copy of the Vodden Report visit this link:
This was Paul Vodden's message to parents...
Our 11 year old son, Ben, took his life after being bullied on the school bus. Of course, those involved initially were his peers but the thing that took it over the edge for Ben was that the bus driver a “responsible” adult joined in. I know this will horrify but, just think about it, the only adult on most coaches that take children to and from school is the driver and we tacitly expect them to supervise the behaviour of their passengers. However, quite clearly, they cannot do a job that requires all their concentration, driving the bus, and adequately undertake a supervisory role. Not only that but they will usually have had no training in how to handle any situation let alone difficult ones, such as bullying, that children will present with. I am not aware of any other situation where children are in a confined space without any sort of meaningful supervision.
Although what Ben did is extremely unusual (but not unique) children experience many stages of unhappiness that do not end in suicide. They have every right not to be put in a position of vulnerability. Furthermore, it is equally unfair of us to expect drivers to undertake a task for which they are likely to have had no training and whilst they are already doing a difficult job.
Having undertaken two surveys, one of children and one of bus drivers, it is clear to me that bullying on the school bus is a serious and significant issue. It is also clear that drivers do not want the job of supervising children, after all they are drivers.
Research indicates that individuals who experience bullying at school can suffer the effects into their 50’s. Bullying is not something to be taken lightly and it is essential that measures are taken to ensure that it is dealt with swiftly and effectively on school buses.
Schools, bus companies and local authorities must ensure that measures are in place which mean that bullying is identified speedily and dealt with effectively. Part of this would be to ensure that drivers receive training in identifying when bullying occurs so that it can be reported and stopped. Supervision on the bus must also be provided perhaps by good, well managed CCTV or by the presence of a responsible, trained adult other than the driver.
Bullying is a blight on our society and its long term affects must not be underestimated. That it takes place on the school bus is beyond doubt and action is required to deal with it.
The Vodden Report/Bullying
In December 2006, parents Paul and Caroline Vodden experienced a devastating and life-changing event. Their eleven year-old son Ben committed suicide.
What could have caused a bright young boy, in his first year of secondary school with his future ahead of him, to end his own life?
It became very clear that his death was the result of one thing – persistent and cruel bullying on the school bus. Ben's parents, Caroline and Paul prepared The Vodden Report from an online survey to assess information surrounding bullying on dedicated school buses having secured funding to carry out the survey of children from The Diana Award. Their efforts were supported by organisations including 4Children, BullyingUK and Kidscape. Hearing this family’s story literally stunned the audience into silence at one of BUSK's School Transport Safety conferences.
Paul described the kind of bullying his son was experiencing. “Had it just been Ben’s peers he may well have coped with the bullying but the bus driver decided to join in and, in our view, this took the situation to another level. Most of what he said I cannot repeat but it included comments such as ‘you’re a d***head’ and ‘ask your parents to get you a friend for Christmas as you’re a billy-no-mates’. Here was an adult taking part in his denigration. This adult should have been someone to look up to, not someone who helped persecute him.”
At Ben’s inquest in West Sussex an open verdict was recorded. The bus driver denied disliking Ben but admitted making such statements to him, saying they were ‘banter’. It was also claimed the school had treated each complaint as ‘isolated’ and did not treat the incidents as linked so the picture of a campaign of bullying didn’t emerge. The bus company concerned said its driver couldn’t possibly have behaved in that way. “Our family was let down by everybody at every turn,” Paul said. “The council, the school and the bus company.”
Management at the school has now changed and, Paul said matters had apparently improved. Since that time Paul and Caroline have been vocal about issues relating to bullying and want to raise awareness of the hidden ‘hot spot’ of bullying – the school bus journey. It’s interesting to consider in the majority of cases – if a school trip is arranged there has to be a ratio of adults to children on board. However on the school bus, no such rules apply. Often the only adult is the bus driver whose main job is to drive safely from A to B. “The situation on the dedicated school bus is, by its nature, potentially problematic as far as bullying is concerned. There is no formal supervision and virtually no opportunity of avoiding conflict situations,” Paul said.
When the Vodden survey was completed, 541 responses from children were received and 268 talked of bullying on the school bus. Paul said: “This survey should be seen as a realistic snapshot of what is happening on dedicated school buses and a general indication of the effects and consequences of bullying in general.”
Those children who took part were asked what they felt like doing when they were being bullied:
*38 per cent said hide away.
*17 per cent said fight back.
*16 per cent said tell someone.
*9 per cent considered suicide
*8 per cent campaigned against bullying.
When asked how long bullying had been going on, 77 children said it had been more than a year.
When they were asked ‘was the driver aware that the bullying was taking place?’ the results were:
*43 children said yes.
*44 children said no.
*155 children gave no response to the question.
*10 children said they would prefer not to say.
In conclusion the Vodden Report says that bullying on the school bus is a significant problem and that children in Year 7 are particularly at risk. Forty per cent of children who took part in the survey, said bullying had started in that school year. Paul said: “Therefore the time when children are moving from Year 6 in primary school to Year 7 in secondary school should be recognized as a time of particular vulnerability.”
It also concludes that the role of the school bus driver is key. “It is clear that the role of the driver is significant,” the report says. “Only four were recorded as taking action to alleviate the bullying, 42 were reported as taking no action even when many of them were reported as knowing what was going on and a very worrying 17 were reported as joining in.” “It is pertinent to ask whether the driver of a bus can reasonably and safely be expected to monitor children’s behaviour whilst giving full attention to the serious undertaking of driving. But if not the driver, then where is the ‘responsible adult’ who can intervene to safeguard children from bullying during their daily journey to and from school?”
Paul and Caroline’s MP brought up these issues in Parliament. She said bullying on school buses includes both verbal and physical abuse such as spitting, punching, slapping and pushing. “In what other situation are as many as 50 or more children forcibly restricted in a confined space for up to an hour, with a single, untrained adult present, who is undertaking a separate task that requires their full attention?”
The Vodden Report makes a number of recommendations. These include: