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Obstacles for Travellers;Research focus;BERA Conference

Teachers believe poor attendance is the major factor disadvantaging Traveller pupils - but the children say name-calling is what most colours their school experiences, according to new Scottish research.

Traveller children told researchers from Edinburgh University that they were called names such as "Tinkies" or "smelly Gypsies" by other pupils.

Parents sometimes condoned their child's absence, or encouraged them to retaliate physically and stand up for themselves, the research team found.

"These reactions were, however, in response to the perception that many schools were not doing enough to prevent or protect against such incidents," say researchers Gwynedd Lloyd, Joan Stead and Betty Jordan.

Fighting sometimes led to formal exclusions, but children also responded to abuse with self-exclusion - by not attending lessons, or by moving to another school.

Some teachers did report that some Traveller children had behaviour difficulties, but many others said they were no problem or that problems were created by children from settled families, according to the Edinburgh report, presented at BERA's annual conference last week.

Parents wanted their children to learn to read and write, and hoped they would be accepted in class - despite frequent absences, or changes of school, resulting from their lifestyle.

The report says schools and councils should recognise and respond to name-calling and bullying as factors in absenteeism. Schools should also consider whether their own norms of behaviour need to be made explicit for Traveller children, because of their incomplete

experience of classroom culture.

The findings drew on interviews with 31 school staff, 15 Traveller support workers, 17 parents and 24 pupils, and separated responses according to whether Travellers were show people or Gypsies.

"Travellers at School: The Experiences of Parents, Pupils and Teachers". Contact Moray House Institute of Education, Edinburgh University, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ.

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