Monday, 20 March 2017

Those big yellow school buses

you sometimes see in a news story from North America are also used in Downunder.
I was reminded of them yet again when someone put up a piece on FB about the possible closure of a tiny rural school in Cornwall. Yes, I do mean tiny. At the present time it looks as if there might be just 11 students there next year.
I never went to a school quite that small. The smallest school I went to was a "two teacher" school. By rural Downunder standards it was quite large. The Senior Cat taught "the big kids" and my mother taught "the little kids". There were twenty-four of the big ones and twenty-two of the little ones. The little ones included the youngest kitten in our family who wasn't actually officially on the school roll but was in the class anyway because there was nowhere else for her to go. There were two small "buses" - one of them a VW "combi" and the other a vehicle of about the same size which had been what Downunderites refer to as a "ute" - a utility vehicle with a tray at the back. The tray had been closed in and a couple of seats added. It was also used by the football team. There were no seat belts in either vehicle. It wouldn't happen now but such were the joys of remote rural life.
When we moved from there the Senior Cat was given the task of setting up an "area" school...which meant adding a secondary section to a small rural primary school.  The students came in buses from the surrounding farms. None of them had to travel a particularly long distance. I think the outermost farm was about eighteen or nineteen miles out. There were just four buses. Some of the other children walked or rode their bikes because you had to be a certain distance from the school before the bus was permitted to pick you up. The buses were driven by local farmers supplementing their income. If one of them was unable to do it then the science teacher, also responsible for the overall running of the buses, would fill in. 
And then, when the Senior Cat was considered to have done the job he had been asked to do there, we moved again. He was asked to take on another (and even more difficult) task. This school was big. There were 660 plus students and almost all of them came in by bus. There were, from memory, eleven buses. They were yellow of course. They were big. They were driven not by the farmers but by the teachers. The shortest run was about 46 miles round trip and the longest was over 100 miles. The teachers lived in caravans at the end of the bus run and the one who started earliest had to be gone before 7am - and so did the children. 
The little ones would fall asleep in the bus and be woken by a parent picking them up or an older child taking them from the bus. It would be dark in the mornings and growing dark in the afternoons in winter. 
If a teacher was ill the deputy headmaster would have to travel out in the spare bus and pick the children up. Those buses were a constant worry to the Senior Cat, the deputy, and the teachers who drove them. There were no mobile phones back then. If a bus broke down or had a puncture then you had to walk to the nearest farm - which might be some miles away - and get help. 
All this and a "big school" was considered preferable to having children in the one-teacher schools which had been quite common a few years before. 
I still wonder what it was like though. What was it like at five years of age to be put on a bus, travel up to two hours, spend the entire day at school, and travel another two  hours home? It was a very long day. Weekends must surely have come as a huge relief. Even if you were "goin' the footy" you didn't have to start out that early.
What was it like for the teachers? I know they found it hard. As "the head's kids" we heard things other children didn't hear.
I can still remember going into the staff room at the school to pick something up for another teacher and finding two in there, one weeping - perhaps from sheer exhaustion. She was the only female bus driver and those buses were very heavy to handle.
    "Cat won't say anything," I heard her say.
And I never said a word. How did they manage to teach?
Small schools have advantages and disadvantages but getting children to bigger schools is a challenge of another sort again.


helen devries said...

In France the older children seem to have an incredibly long day thanks to the bussing in system - though the teachers don't do the driving!
The younger ones usually go to a school which is within a reasonable distance, luckily.

Anonymous said...

It hasn't got that much better ... more area schools, coupled with daylight saving which means children are leaving home in the dark for a large portion of the school year ... and now the football associations have amalgamated they have to leave home at seven for half the away games as well.