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Gypsies afraid of drugs in schools

Parents keeps children at home amid fears of corruption and bullying, says Estyn. Nicola Porter reports

Gypsy families fear their children will be corrupted into under-age sex and drug-taking in Welsh schools, new research reveals.

Inspectors from Estyn interviewed what it describes in its report as "traveller parents" as part of an investigation into educational provision for the minority group. It praised innovative schemes helping to boost basic skills among their young people.

But the inspection body found one of the biggest barriers to learning was parental concern over peer pressure in mainstream schools. Estyn says schools and local authorities should do more to promote traditional Gypsy culture in the curriculum.

It also says high levels of absenteeism among traveller children in secondary schools needs to be addressed as a priority.

Inspectors found examples of excellent practice in 18 schools and nine local authorities in helping to raise standards among Wales's 1,475 Gypsy pupils.

But visits to traveller sites also revealed parental concerns over bullying, abuse and disregard for their beliefs. Many did not make their children go to school once they reached secondary level, believing they learned more about their traditional family culture and ethos at home.

Estyn found the overall standard of basic skills of traveller children is poor - with some not even being able to tell the time. Few went to school after Year 6 and a tiny minority sat GCSEs.

The Assembly government pumped pound;900,000 into raising the educational standards of traveller children in 2005-6. Estyn was tasked to look at standards in 2003 by the Assembly's equality of opportunity committee, following its own year-long study of the needs of Gypsy communities.

All the schemes looked at last year by Estyn involved using aspects of the traveller children's culture to help raise standards and break down barriers.

One local authority purchased a traditional Romany bow-top wagon to tour schools and sites. Another project gives pupils a chance to experience the lifestyle of a traveller by living in a trailer and sitting around a camp fire.

On-site homework clubs and a touring play bus are also being used to aid learning, especially among primary-age Gypsy children. And older pupils are finding jobs - particularly in health, beauty or construction - after being sent on work placements.

However, inspectors found good-practice schemes encouraging basic skills and vocational learning were not consistent throughout Wales. LEAs that did best used fully-trained members of the Gypsy community to work in schools and nurseries.

But in other areas teachers, who often had low expectations of traveller children, refused to visit their camp sites after being made to feel unwelcome. Some schools also reported difficulties teaching Gypsy children due to bad behaviour and learning problems.

Romany Gypsies were recognised legally as a racial group in 1988. A number of other groups, known as Gypsy or Gypsy travellers, are defined in terms of their ethnic, national social origins - such as English and Welsh Gypsies, Scottish Gypsy travellers, fairground people and circus people, bargees (occupational boat dwellers) and new age Gyspytravellers.

Cardiff has the highest number of Gypsy pupils, at 474, with the joint lowest in Gwynedd and the Vale of Glamorgan at seven each.

The education of Gypsy traveller learners, www.estyn.gov.uk

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