Lessons online reduce the disruption of life on the road, writes Raymond Ross
If you are a young traveller on the road for most of the year, it's easier to keep in touch with your school using the virtual highway than "snail mail" or telephone. An award-winning project that offers laptops to children of the travelling community and keeps them in regular contact with their base schools by email is proving popular with teachers, parents and pupils.
"If I'm stuck, I don't need to wait for the teacher to come and help me as I can just email," says one pupil. And a parent comments: "If there's a problem we can email the school and ask for help - contact is much quicker."
"Children of seasonal travellers, such as showmen or circus families, may spend as little as 10 weeks at their base school during the winter," says Marion Rowlands, the project manager of the e-Learning and Mobility Project run by the National Association for the Teachers of Travellers (Natt).
"During the travelling season they often relocate every week. So it is difficult to achieve any degree of continuity of education."
The e-Lamp project uses a satellite communication system to keep highly mobile learners in contact with their base school for support. It won the primary inclusion award earlier this year from Becta, the Goverment's schools technology agency.
"Our current system of distance learning, well established, consists of packs of work which broadly replicate the work done by the base-school class," says Ms Rowlands. "Teachers aim to support this work on site as much as possible but provision is patchy. Traveller parents are therefore the primary supporters of their children's work.
"Our aim is to give each student in the project an experience which comes close to the classroom model, by linking himher through email to his base-school teacher, to enhance his traditional distance learning pack, essentially allowing him to raise an 'electronic hand'," she says.
Work is sent back to schools for marking and new work is sent out by email.
Schools are given money to cover staff released from classroom duties to operate the communications.
What is important, says Ms Rowlands, is that social contact is maintained between travellers and their friends in school. They receive news of school activities so that they still feel part of the school in spite of being miles away.
Results have exceeded expectations: pupils are producing more work to a higher standard than usual. And pupils' parents appreciate being able to access teacher support when they need it.
Maintaining contact with the base school - and playground pals - has also made it easier for travelling children to re-integrate on their return after the winter. They have lost less ground academically than in previous years and gained significant ICT skills.
A report from the National Association for the Teachers of Travellers, published last January, said the project is "successful in demonstrating enhancement".
What the report also records is the typically positive feedback of pupils, schools and parents. Teachers and schools suggested that those children who used the equipment throughout the travel period had all benefited, to varying degrees, especially where schools had a named tutor-co-ordinator responsible for communication and pupil support, and the role was fully structured into school organisation.
During this year's travelling season, 57 pupils have been officially supported, including some from the bigger traveller communities: showmen, circuses, gypsies and travellers of Irish heritage.
"We encourage use by school- age siblings and believe that the distance learning of up to 109 students is actually being supported by this project," says Ms Rowlands. "We set out to demonstrate that by using ICT it was possible to enhance distance learning and promote attainment and inclusion. We have every confidence that e-Lamp will continue this work and demonstrate a model for effective year-round education of highly mobile traveller students."
www.natt.org.ukwww.scottishtravellered.netSETTE-Lamp: the e-Learning and Mobility Project by Marion Rowlands of Natt, Wednesday, noon LAPTOPS FOR THE BIG TOP: THE VERDICT
His school history showed disaffection resulting in poor attendance and achievement ... However he showed excellent commitment and motivation in the project. On returning to school he has shown a massive rise in confidence and self-esteem. He has been attending regularly and his attainment is increasing.
"The children are more interested in their work and like talking about school-work more often."
"This laptop is so god because it has helpt me and my bruvers a lot. I look at the words and it lorns me on my sbelin and (my friend) likes playing on the word game and it lorns him with heys words."
"Hows the travelling going? Where have you visited so far? Reply soon. Best wishes from the class."