Day in the life of a school bus controller

Issue: Volume 102, Number 3

Posted: 8 March 2023
Reference #: 1HAZpk

The Ministry of Education school transport service helps over 100,000 ākonga get to and from school. Bus controllers play an important part in enabling this service.

The bus services are essential for ākonga in rural areas.

The bus services are essential for ākonga in rural areas.

Denise Jones is the principal of Tatuanui School, a rural school catering for 140 ākonga up to Year 6. She is also the school’s bus controller, a role that is not fully appreciated until you find out just what it involves.  

“It’s a sort of role that is typical of teaching and education in general, no two days are the same and you won’t have the same problem all the time,” says Denise.  

School transport assistance is provided by the Ministry of Education to help ākonga overcome barriers to education, such as distance or accessibility.  

Every day, over 100,000 ākonga use a Ministry-contracted daily school bus to get to and from school. Shelley Grant from the Ministry’s Te Puna Hanganga, Matihiko | Infrastructure and Digital group, says bus controllers play an important role in the delivery of school bus services.  

“A bus controller is a permanent employee of the school (such as a teacher or principal), who is a point of contact for Ministry-contracted daily school buses. They have a very important role as they are our people on the ground.”  

Shelley describes the role as being a complex position, in charge of both safety and administration. Bus controllers have to develop procedures to make sure that the location where the buses arrive at school is safe and that ākonga are getting off and on the bus safely. They are also responsible for answering any questions caregivers have about the school bus service, as well as promoting safe behaviour by ākonga while they are using the school bus.  

Learning the system  

Denise describes her first experience as a bus controller as a baptism of fire. She had not previously been involved in rural life so was unaware of the system required to get ākonga to school in rural areas. She had to quickly learn what the eligibility criteria for school transport assistance was and how it applies to different ākonga.  

“Parents can get confused about what the eligibility criteria are, and they will say things like, ‘But the bus goes past my house to your school. Why can’t my child get on it?’ or, ‘Why can my intermediate child get on the bus at the end of the drive but my Year 4 student can’t?’  

“So, you have to have the knowledge that there are formulas for working out distances between home and school, and school to school, as to whether tamariki are eligible.”  

Shelley says there are three criteria ākonga must meet to be eligible for a Ministry school bus. First, ākonga must be going to the closest school where they can enrol; second, they must live more than a certain distance from the school, and third, there must be no suitable public transport available.

Denise takes a hands on approach to being a bus controller.

Denise takes a hands on approach to being a bus controller.


A hands-on approach  

Denise likes to have more than just theoretical knowledge of the service – she will also travel the school bus routes to understand where the stops are and what areas are covered.  

“Every year I will always get on a bus and travel the bus routes with the bus drivers. Other bus routes I will drive. It gives me a good picture of where my children are, and where they have to go to so they can get on the bus.”  

For some ākonga the stop may be right outside their home, for others they may have to travel to a stop. The reasons for having to travel may be due to safety, such as a lack of turning space for the school bus at their home, or there may not be enough other ākonga living near them to warrant a bus stop up their road.  

These ākonga may be entitled to a conveyance allowance to help caregivers get them to the nearest pick-up/drop-off stop. Speaking on behalf of parents with the Ministry in this situation is another role of the bus controller.  

Liaison and communication are a major part of the role. The bus controller is the liaison between the Ministry of Education, caregivers, the bus company, the community, and other schools.  

Shelley says the bus controllers have to be available at all times in case something happens, for example, the road slips that occurred during extreme weather this year.  

“They’ll get contacted by the transport provider who’ll say, ‘This road is no longer passable, we need to change the bus route so these ākonga can’t get picked up at their normal bus stop’. The bus controller will then have to contact the caregivers to let them know that their tamariki won’t be picked up as normal by the school bus that day.”  

Whanaungatanga is key  

Communication is important in the role, as it helps to reduce other problems such as bus overloading.  

Denise comments that a few years ago they found out one of the buses was getting overloaded. When it was investigated, they found there were several ineligible ākonga getting on the bus and travelling to school. Denise then had to let the caregivers of the ineligible ākonga know that they weren’t able to put their tamariki on the bus and explain why this was the case.  

Denise says that having good relationships is the key to making the service a success.  

“We’ve got a positive relationship with all our schools using our bus service. As there are usually siblings on the bus from primary, intermediate and college, the older students show courtesy, care, and respect.  

“If the college students see our little 5-year-olds getting on the bus and there’s no seats, they will ensure our primary school children are seated.”  

Liaising with the other schools who share their bus service is also important when it comes to addressing any behavioural problems on the school bus.  

“Any issues that may arise from time to time we quickly follow up with the other schools and we work together to get things sorted.”  

Day to day responsibilities  

As well as understanding the eligibility criteria and maintaining lines of communication with caregivers, there are also everyday activities such as ensuring ākonga get onto the correct bus when school is finished.  

At Tatuanui School, a teacher has the responsibility for gathering ākonga and putting them into the right queue for their bus. The system works well, and the school continually reviews systems to ensure best practice for safety. However, there was one instance a few years ago that led to the school instantly tightening up the system.  

A 5-year-old had been placed in his queue, but he noticed that the other bus, which went the opposite way to where he lived, was a nice new shiny bus.  

He decided that he would like to travel on the new bus so changed bus queues. He was not discovered until the bus driver finished his run and discovered he had a child left over. The bus company contacted the school, saying they were looking after a “little person”.  

The school had just been alerted by an anxious parent that their child had not got off at his bus stop. From here, the situation was quickly resolved, and a relieved parent went to the bus depot to collect a content 5-year-old. The system at the school now includes counting ākonga as they get on the bus.  

Denise is delighted that there is now online training for bus controllers.  

Shelley says, “The whole point of the online training is to make it easy for our bus controllers to access the training in their own time.  

“We really appreciate the job they do as they are such an integral part of getting the ākonga to and from school safely. Without them, this would be so much harder. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Online training for bus controllers

Bus controllers play a vital role in helping ākonga get to and from school safely. The Ministry now offers an online training module for all bus controllers (new and existing) that helps explain the role and responsibilities.

This training builds knowledge for a bus controller, including information on their responsibilities, the eligibility criteria, and suggestions for bus safety training.
There are also scenarios and quizzes that test knowledge at each stage of the training.

To access the course:

  1. Go to link)
  2. Login via your ESL Logon
  3. Search ‘Catalogue’ for ‘Bus Controller’

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 7:44 pm, 8 March 2023

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