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Education on the go

Marion Rowlands and her team use mobile communications and laptops to improve learning for travellers. Sally McKeown reports

Many people think inclusion means working with children with disabilities or learning difficulties. Few think of it as working with children who are hardly ever there. But during the first seven years of education, pupils from fairground and circus families may lose a staggering four and a half years of tuition. During the travelling season, they may be in 21 different LEAs in 25 weeks so, if they go to school at all, they will just get to the "Hello, who are you?" stage before they are up and off again.

This problem is not new. Back in the 1960s, the Plowden report identified all traveller children as educationally the most severely deprived children in the country, claiming that their "needs are... extreme and largely unmet". Today, education watchdog Ofsted says, "Access to school for secondary aged children remains a matter of grave concern. There are possibly as many as 10,000 children at this phase who are not even registered with a school."

There have been attempts to meet their needs over the years. LEAs established Traveller Education Services which work with mainstream schools to provide packs of worksheets and text books. It is then up to the parents to try to act as mentor, disciplinarian and font of all knowledge. This style of provision has not been wholly successful for many reasons: children need to be highly motivated and literate to cope with distance learning; there are always a lot distractions going on outside the trailer; teachers and pupils need regular contact to sort out problems; and the children have social and emotional needs too. On top of this, by the time the children returned to school in the winter, many were strangers to the rest of the class and all too often became disaffected and dropped out.

Marion Rowlands of the National Association of Teachers of Travellers and a team of colleagues in traveller education have been involved in a project called E-lamp2. This might sound like something from a fairy tale, but in fact stands for E-Learning and Mobility and is a clever, high-tech project that won the Becta Primary and Secondary Inclusion award this year. It involved teachers, traveller services and and worked with 21 children and families from Bolton, Cambridge, South Gloucestershire and Surrey.

Part of the thinking behind the project was that laptops and mobile phones are now relatively commonplace and could be used to keep the children in touch with a teacher and also with their classmates. The team had to make sure that everyone was confident about logging on, opening emails and attachments, and finding the right software to do the job in hand. Routine tasks such as printing and scanning can be daunting if the machine plays up and there's no teacher you can ask. So the project set about teaching parents and older siblings so they could pool their knowledge and all have a go.

Funding came from several sources: from the Department for Education and Skills, the teaching union NASUWT, the Showman's Guild of Great Britain and mobile telecoms company O2, which had the most extensive network coverage in the pilot areas. The funds paid for laptops, printers, scanners and other peripherals, GPRS data cards and an allowance of 50 Mbs per student per month. It also covered teacher release for training, preparation, marking and pupil guidance. Each area had insurance, a spare laptop and a budget to pay a courier to deliver the machine to the pupil's mobile home if the technology failed.

The project was highly successful and teachers and parents were delighted with the results. Teachers reported that pupils were not letting their skills go rusty. The children were able to re-integrate with their base schools more easily and, in more than one case, the traveller child became the ICT expert whom everyone wanted to sit next to. Parents also reported benefits: children got on with work without being nagged and many found email an ideal medium for keeping in touch with classmates. One boy who was besotted with animals loved looking at the animal websites on the internet and made a book about ferrets to send to his teacher.


* Set clear, appropriate and achievable targets for each child.

* Set some work for each child linking to their special interests and abilities. This helps to keep them motivated.

* Involving parents is vital. They are the front line support and will be more motivated if they can see the benefits of technology for themselves.

One father has just booked a cheap flight to Germany.

* Keep in touch regularly to sort out issues and worries.

* Provide both separate and joint training sessions for parents and children for the greatest impact. Both groups need time to air their concerns but there is also a lot of information they need to share.



The history of fairs.


The website for the National Association of Teachers of Travellers.

* www.curriculumonline. Multimedia resources to support teaching and learning that schools can buy with e-learning credits.


Free maths resources.


Free maths resources.


Free English resources.


* The base schools chose the software. This helped with re-integration.

They particularly liked programs that could give instant feedback to the pupil as well as providing evidence of achievement for monitoring and reporting.

* Use Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) where possible. These have a core of work that can be used by many pupils which saves teacher time and effort. They are often interactive, animated and very motivating.

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