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SOOBy Bus Cut Report

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Children attending Selly Oak Trust school (for children with special educational needs) have used a service known as the SOOBy (Selly Oak Only Bus)bus for a number of years. This service followed the same route as the Number 11 bus, meaning the children would familiarise themselves with the route and learn how to use public transport, which would be an invaluable skill for them in the future.

In the curriculum section of the school website, the service is listed as one of the programs offered by the school as a step towards independence.

In the Step By Step Program to Independent Travel, it states:

As part of their progress towards independent living and employability, students are encouraged, where appropriate, to become independent travellers.

When students start the school in Year 7, the majority of students travel in minibuses or taxis. A small number join the SOOBy bus.

The same page on the school website describes the SOOBy bus as:

There are two SOOBy buses which run clockwise and anticlockwise around the number 11 bus route. Each bus has an escort. Students who live within walking distance of the number 11 bus route are invited to travel on a SOOBy. Parents and carers, with the school and the school transport department of the Local Authority, decide whether it is appropriate for their children to travel on the SOOBy. In addition, a decision has to be made regarding safe travel between the bus stop and home. Some students are escorted by a responsible adult, and put into the care of the escort on the bus and received from the escort at the end of their journey home. Students who are confident in their home areas but are not yet able to travel to and from school on public transport can walk to and from the bus stop unescorted.

At home time the students who travel on the SOOBy are allowed to leave lessons five minutes early to meet their escorts who take them to the SOOBy. The SOOBy buses are usually the first ones to leave the site.

If the student is to be collected at the bus stop and there is no one there to meet them, the escort will keep the student on the bus and return them to the school. Where school staff will make arrangements for the student to be collected.

The SOOBY bus offers students the opportunity to feel more independent whilst being accompanied at all times and students are being familiar with the route and the skills needed for travelling on the bus whilst travelling on the SOOBY.

With what appears to be the minimum of consultation or notice, this service has been scrapped. Listen to how this cut has impacted directly on one family by clicking the player below.

Clicking on the </> on the right hand side of the player will allow you to share the interview with social networking sites and also provide a direct link to the recording on Soundcloud and also an embed code so you can use it on your own website or blog.

If you would like to use the audio above in your own site, you are free to do so.

Update: We have been trying to get to the bottom of this story, but our investigation has raised more questions than answers. We asked the school to comment on the change to the transport arrangements, but after being told they would provide one, the headteacher changed her mind and asked us to request a statement from the local authority instead.

So we approached Birmingham City Council who told us

The service has been withdrawn due to lack of use with very few children using the service. There was no sense continuing with it as it wasn’t being used; it has not been cut because of the financial situation we find ourselves in, the cut would have been made at anytime. The children who were using the service are now using the home to school system so no children have been left high and dry.

This is at odds with what the parent we spoke to was told, that the removal of the service was due to financial reasons.

We also submitted a Freedom of Information request to Birmingham City Council regarding the wider issue of transport for children with special educational needs. They told us:

  • The total budget for transport cost for 2010/2011 is £10,260,798. This is the total budget for contract hire and bus passes (NB This includes mainstream travel assistance). The budget for guiding costs is approximately £4,000,000.
  • Approximately 4,000 pupils are provided with daily specialised transport assistance and approximately 3,000 pupils receive help with free bus passes.
  • We contract all of our work out to external transport operators so employ no drivers. We employ 660 pupil guides.

In response to a question on how many of these services had been cut since the start of the current academic year (ie September 2010), they said

We make changes to routes as required according to pupil needs, where
they live etc. Our current policy is currently out for consultation for
change and will be subject to Members Agreement.

They claimed not to have any information on:

  • How many children had been affected by cuts since September 2010
  • How many services were planned to be cut
  • How many children would be affected by these cuts
  • How many redundancies will the cuts result in
  • Financially, how much would the cuts to these services save

Interestingly, when asked “Legally, how much notification do schools and the Authority have to give parents that a service is being withdrawn”, they replied

As an authority we have a duty to act reasonably and, although there are no prescribed timescales, the authority would take into account the responses to its consultation on any changes to be made and would also consider whether any transitional arrangements may be necessary as part of any proposed changes.

This final response raises some interesting questions. How much of a consultation was entered into with parents? Were their responses taken into account and how much consideration was given to any transitional arrangements?

We will be looking further into this in an attempt to uncover the truth relating to the removal of this service.


Written by Andy Watt

March 23, 2011 at 10:48 am

Posted in Online Journalism

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We Are What We Tweet – Promo 3rd Cut

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Below is the third cut of the We Are What We Tweet promotional video. I replaced a couple of clips for those with better definition, added the logo to the start and as a graphic during the promo and also changed the text colour to match that of the logo.

Written by Andy Watt

March 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

BBC Sport and Social Media

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Following my meeting yesterday with Ollie Williams from the BBC, he has decided to test one of my recommendations for using social media as part of the BBC’s Olympic strategy. Ollie has opened a VYou account which you can see here. VYou allows you to ask questions of other users and receive a video response as a reply.

So if you have ever wanted to ask something about the Olympic Games, then why not see if Ollie can help?

Written by Andy Watt

March 22, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Interview on Audio Journalism

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Over the weekend, I was interviewed by the Audio Journalism Blog in regards to the LinkedIn group I set up.

If you would like to check it out you can read it here.

Written by Andy Watt

March 22, 2011 at 12:47 am

Posted in Online Journalism

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Social Media and the Olympics

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Below is a mind map I created to help me compile a report for the BBC on possibilities for using social media to encourage interest in lesser watched sports during the Olympics. Below the mind map is the text of the brief report.


Social media has exploded over the last five years. New start-ups such as Twitter have been embraced by millions of users who use the services frequently, while other more established social networks, like MySpace have fallen by the wayside.

The challenge for the Olympics in 2012 will be to harness the services which offer the most potential to both the Corporation, the athletes and spectators/viewers.


Twitter is probably the most popular existing source of communication between athletes and their followers. It allows the user to communicate updates about their lives to their followers and receive replies, opinions and questions which they can then respond to. Most mobile devices can access the service and it will be one of the most active forms of communication in the build up to the Olympic games and for the duration of the event.

Twitter is not just a simple messaging service though. Through the use of the Lists function, Twitter accounts can be collected together and the user can then follow a particular list which can be updated and amended at any time by the person who created it. This would be an ideal way for broadcasters or sporting organisations to promote and distribute the details of their athletes’ Twitter accounts to potential followers. It is likely that if followers find individual users interesting, they will follow them from their personal accounts. These lists could be a generic list of athletes or organised by sporting discipline/event and could also include the broadcasters and commentators.

Also, Tweeting from mobile phones with location settings activated can allow Tweets to be plotted on a map. This can provide a useful visual source as photographs will also appear on the map along with the Tweeted message. This could be used to raise awareness of where sports personnel are appearing, broadcasters are reporting from and potentially improve attendance numbers at events. The maps can also be embedded into existing websites and updated automatically.


Many personalities, teams, television programmes and events have fan pages created so Facebook users can receive news updates and comment on their chosen topics. It is also possible for members of the groups to upload their own content, such as photographs to be shared by others.

The biggest problem for many is how to keep their pages updated on a regular basis, but this need not be a concern if a Facebook app called RSS Grafitti is utilised. This allows RSS feeds to be automatically posted onto Facebook pages, meaning that the person managing the content could update the individual’s personal webpage or blog and have it automatically post to the Facebook group too. This can increase traffic to the host site as well as provide an invaluable source of information for readers of the page. As the app uses RSS feeds, a Google search RSS feed can be sourced which can be used the same way, but this time pulling feeds from news sites across the world (or localised) and posted to the site. This can have drawbacks if the wrong stories are posted, but the site can be monitored and the rss search results refined to limit this eventuality.

Also, websites can use the Facebook Live Stream service which is like a streamlined Cover It Live service (see below) where members can comment in chatroom style on a live event regardless of whether they are on each other’s friends lists and have their messages automatically posted to their own walls with a link back to the parent site.

Cover It Live

This is a service which allows content from Twitter, Qik, Livestream and others to be brought together and posted in one continuous stream of comments, usually during an event or broadcast. Users can also comment directly into the conversation or do so through services they already subscribe to. This can prove to be a useful tool when covering live events as Twitter hash tags as well as individual Tweeters can be automatically added to the stream. It can also be replayed after and could provide a rich source of comments and record the varying emotions displayed throughout the event.

Cover It Live can also be embedded into an existing website or blog and it may be that the BBC already has a license/account which would make it a low cost alternative.


VYou is a relatively new service which allows members to be asked questions and then record a video reply. It has grown rapidly with music companies, publishers and sports personalities responding publicly to questions.

This could not only provide video content which could be used by broadcasters or online media, but it also provides a very personal response from the account holder with previous questions and responses listed to the right of the video window which can be reviewed by anyone.

The account holder can select which questions they answer and these are only made public once they have been replied to, which eradicates the possibility of spam or offensive content from appearing publicly, meaning moderation would not be a low priority.

Some current users of VYou have been very creative with their ‘waiting’ videos ( a short piece of film which makes it appear as if the person is actually waiting at their computer for a question) and would work well for individuals or teams. This could prove especially useful as a way of lesser known sports and events being made more accessible as the participants could be asked directly about their discipline and even to explain terminology or rules which may be unfamiliar.

Many features are available for free, including the ability to embed the content into another site and also shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. However, if a branded channel were required, the cost would be around the [Cost removed] mark. This cost does allow more options with regards to branding and embedding etc and the cost is apparently negotiable. If you wish to explore this further, you would need to contact [Name Removed].

Location based social networking and GetGlue

The two main players in this field are Foursquare and Gowalla. Both offer rewards for being in particular localities and it may be possible to have unique rewards (in the form of virtual badges) for spectators who attend certain venues and/or events.

Another option would be to use GetGlue which is designed in a similar way but to record the user’s viewing habits rather than physical movements. For example, they may ‘check in’ when they are watching a particular series, show or event and it may be possible to have unique badges for watching BBC content. It is probable that this would not be free and although I have emailed the company, at the time of writing I am still awaiting a response in regards to this.

With all three it is possible to be quite creative with these rewards to encourage users to acquire them.


Personally, I would recommend the use of a combination of Twitter, Facebook and VYou to encourage interaction between athletes, broadcasters and spectators/viewers. Both offer a personal element and can also provide content which could be used elsewhere on the internet.


Written by Andy Watt

March 21, 2011 at 1:00 am

We Are What We Tweet – 2nd promo

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Here is the second promo video to advertise the We Are What We Tweet event, organised and run by MA Social Media students at BCU. For more information, visit the WAWWT website or follow them on Twitter.
This version of the promo is still not the finished article, but you will notice differences between this and the first. More members of the group are featured, the audio on newly recorded footage is clearer as is picture quality. Certain elements from the script have been dropped and the end result is much more professional. Please note that the first version was a very rough cut and never intended to be the finished product.

Written by Andy Watt

March 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

Assisting with audio

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As part of my Online Journalism course, I have to become part of online communities around my field of interest. One such area is audio journalism and I have been offering help and advice in a number of ways. These include the LinkedIn group, Blackberry Messenger, in real life demonstrating Garage Band and also on Twitter. Below is an extract from a conversation on Twitter with Dr L. Lester Thatch who is looking to use audio and video in her website.

Written by Andy Watt

March 20, 2011 at 11:48 am