In brief

12th March 2004 at 00:00
The Education of Gypsy and Traveller Children: towards inclusion and educational achievement

By Christine O'Hanlon and Pat Holmes

Trentham Books pound;14.99

It's difficult to think of a minority group more marginalised, maligned and misunderstood than Travellers. Even using the group term is problematic because many disparate peoples fit into this category: English and Welsh Gypsies, Scottish and Irish Travellers, showmen and circus families and Romanies from eastern and central Europe. There are no official figures for the number of Travellers in the UK, but the latest estimate is around 120,000. Prejudice and mutual suspicion have helped keep Travellers outside the education system. Only in the past two decades have most Traveller children been going to school, since education authorities set up outreach education and welfare services for families and support for schools.

If there is a single stumbling block between Traveller culture and schools, it is flexibility. Older siblings looking after younger ones, seasonal migratory patterns linked to agricultural work and holiday fairgrounds and lack of space and, sometimes, basic amenities can threaten Travellers'

willingness or ability to meet school expectations. This is where the growing number of local authority-run traveller education support services (TESS) come in, helping schools understand the needs of Traveller children and helping Traveller families understand how schools operate.

Christine O'Hanlon and Pat Holmes have many years' experience of smoothing the often rocky path between families and schools. Teachers, they point out, are not immune from prejudice and ignorance.

One basic misconception is that Traveller families will have a fundamental knowledge of how schools operate. Commonly accepted practices, such as queueing, separation by age groups, homework and lunchtime, need to be discussed and explained. Care must also be taken to analyse why a child is behind in literacy and numeracy. Many children will have had erratic learning opportunities because of frequent moves, which should not be mistaken for learning difficulties.

The book, which includes useful case studies, is an invaluable guide to demystifying and understanding the educational and social needs of Traveller children.

* Travellers are the subject of the Inside Story in next week's Teacher magazine

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