Schools are struggling to support low-achieving Roma children because of delays in accessing pupil premium funding, Ofsted has claimed.
In a new report on supporting Roma students’ education, the watchdog highlights problems with low attainment and high dropout rates in some schools. This comes as the number of gypsy and Roma students in English schools rose by 13.7 per cent to 19,000 this year.
Pupils from this community record the “poorest outcomes of any pupil group in terms of attainment, attendance and exclusions”, the report says. In 2013, just 23 per cent of gypsy or Roma pupils in England achieved level 4 or above in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2, compared with 75 per cent of all pupils nationally.
Ofsted highlights serious problems with a lack of specialist advice for schools, a shortage of English language teachers to work with Roma students and weaknesses in the transition from primary to secondary education.
Inspectors visited 11 schools and three local authorities in Derby, Manchester and Sheffield with high numbers of pupils of Roma descent. Five years ago, there were 100 Roma pupils in Sheffield schools; today there are 2,100. “Few spoke any English when they arrived at school in England,” the report says.
School leaders, the report adds, reported “no adverse effect on the achievement of other pupils already settled in their schools”.
“However, they had experienced problems accessing available funding such as the pupil premium for new pupils quickly enough," the report says. "This was a particular challenge when a large number of pupils joined or left during the school year.”
The concern was echoed by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads’ union. "The report makes some sensible points that NAHT supports, notably the recommendations for the department to be more responsive to in-year changes to the number of pupils on the school roll,” he said.
“Schools need to be able to get money more quickly when Roma children join them part-way through the school year. We know that rapid intervention and sustained support are vital to improving the outcomes of all children no matter their background. This is particularly true for the youngest children."
While all of the schools Ofsted visited were “welcoming” to new Roma pupils and “integrated them as quickly as possible”, initial assessment, induction and secondary transition were found to be “variable in their effectiveness”.
“Senior officers at the local authorities told inspectors that it was difficult to accurately keep track of pupils from highly mobile families,” the report says. “This was particularly difficult at secondary level, where high dropout rates among Roma pupils were not uncommon.
"The Roma parents spoken to by inspectors consistently said that they were reluctant to state their children’s ethnicity for fear of discrimination. This leads to under-reporting of Roma pupil numbers that, in turn, makes it difficult to target resources effectively.”
Ofsted has called on the Department for Education to “consider how the allocation of existing funding can more accurately reflect the changes in the number of eligible pupils on roll throughout the school year”, as well as “how the classification of pupil groups can encourage more accurate recording”.
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