Supporting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils in school
It is important that all staff within school have a commitment to a fully inclusive ethos in that Traveller culture, along with all other cultures, are acknowledged, accepted, valued and celebrated by all staff and all children.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are at risk of serious underachievement. As educationalists we should be questioning why there is little improvement in comparison to other Ethnic Groups of pupils and what support we can offer pupils in order to improve their achievement.
It is particularly important for pupils from Gypsy Roma and Traveller backgrounds to see their culture, language, values and history reflected in school. It has a positive effect on their self esteem as well as educating all pupils by giving them accuracy and quality of knowledge. EMTAS can advise on the acquisition of specific resources. The introduction of Gypsy Roma and Traveller History Month (GRTHM) in June 2008 also supports this. This event now happens annually and is a good way to reflect culture in school. EMTAS can support your school in planning events and resources.
Using collaborative approaches to learning and ensuring that Traveller pupils’ cultural experiences are reflected and built upon positively in the classroom/group. EMTAS also has a Traveller Persona Doll that can be used within Early years and Key Stage One settings. Staff should have high expectations of Traveller children setting challenging short term, small step targets and the provision of opportunities which allow Traveller pupils, along with all others, to achieve.
Staff need flexibility in approaches which need to take into account any gaps in pupils learning resulting from missed or interrupted schooling. For example a child placed on an intervention program for literacy may not benefit due to their travelling lifestyle during the summer term therefore could be placed on a ‘priority list’ for September to receive the same targeted support. Some pupils who are being integrated into school may also need negotiated timetables.
Liaison with parents in advance and TAS if necessary, to secure parental permission for pupils participation in school trips. It is good practice to share with parents the importance of the trip and the reasons for going, in terms of topic stimulus. If there are photographs from a previous school trip it may give the parents a flavour of what to expect. Parents need to be reassured their child will be safe. Flexibility may also be needed with regard to organisation of the trip to ensure participation, for example the parent accompanying child, transportation by the parent of the pupil to the trip.
Ensure support mechanisms are in place to enable pupils to complete homework when home circumstances are not conducive to its successful completion. A lack of writing materials, reference books, space and privacy in their own home may make it more difficult for a Traveller pupil to complete homework. Parents may also not be able to support homework due to low literacy levels themselves. In primary school having a time during the day where the pupil can do their homework, even learning spellings can help that child feel included instead of asking them to stay in during play and lunch times which can be seen as a punishment. In secondary schools pupils may be allowed during tutor time to complete homework or research using a computer. By allowing pupils time to complete homework could lead to the reduction of a potential conflict between the class teacher and pupil when homework is not handed in.
It is important to acknowledge parents’ educational aspirations for their children. Positive efforts should be made to encourage participation by Traveller parents in the educational life of their child, for example by telephoning a parent to arrange a meeting if they did not request an appointment at home/school consultation evening. It may be that the parent had a short conversation with the class teacher the previous week and therefore did not feel the need to attend. Staff should be aware of possible limited literacy skills within the Traveller home. This may require for example, alternative methods being employed by the school to inform parents of important dates, school procedures and homework. The school need to ensure responsibility for the development of home-school relationships. Having a named member of senior staff responsible for general contact with Traveller parents and children may aid communication.
A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person (Stephen Lawrence report, ch47, recommendation 12) The majority of racist incidents are ‘name calling or comments in discussion’. In dealing with racist incidents we need to be more aware of the content in which the incident takes place, coupled with the teacher’s knowledge of the pupils. All incidents should be recorded on a Racial Incident Recording Form. Bullying is a major reason cited by Traveller parents as to why their children are removed from school and educated at home. It is crucial that all incidents however small are dealt with effectively and parents informed of actions taken. This maintains good relations between the school and family and can limit misinterpretation. So often do parents feel that their child has been punished for hitting out at a child who has initially called them a racist name and the incident isn’t effectively dealt with.
Ensuring an inclusive culture that promotes equality of opportunity and recognises cultural diversity and difference. It is often underestimated how important the recognition of culture is in school. Books in the library, guided reading text in literacy, Gypsy, Roma Traveller History Month and local history are all examples of how culture can be incorporated. Not only does this raise the self esteem of Traveller pupils but at the same time educated all pupils and can address misconceptions and prejudice. TAS can support schools with curriculum guidance.
Where possible it’s important to ensure adequate pupil support at the point of transfer between key stages, particularly primary to secondary. Parents may feel very uncertain about this transfer and therefore schools should demonstrate there is an expectation that Y6 pupils will transfer like all other pupils. Parents may need support with completing the related paperwork and informed clearly of deadline dates. It is also important that if you have Showmen pupil in your school they are aware of induction days so they may be able to return from their travels to attend these days. EMTAS offer a Year 6 transition programme for Traveller pupils.