A senior member of staff at every secondary school should be given responsibility for Gypsy, Roma and traveller students and relations with their communities, according to a new government-funded report.
Giving traveller families teachers' mobile telephone numbers and being "flexible" about behaviour and homework could be the solution to the underachievement of Gypsy pupils in school, it says.
Those best at helping the communities are primary and secondaries with an "open-door" approach, and those who show sensitivity with issues such as sex education. Teachers should also attend traveller events, the researchers say.
The 9,000 Gypsy, Roma and traveller pupils in English schools have the worst attendance and exam results among all ethnic groups. Just 290 are classified as gifted and talented and 70 were permanently excluded in 200708, four times as many as other ethnic group.
Only 7 per cent of Gypsy, Roma and traveller pupils achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths against 47 per cent of all pupils.
"Gypsy, Roma and traveller parents place a significant amount of trust in schools to care for and protect their children," the report notes. "Whether or not this trust is won seems to depend on a range of factors, and almost always takes time, but, once established, the notion of trust appears to be transmitted effectively within the community and can be long-lasting.
The report, Improving Educational Outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Pupils - What Works?, was written by the National Foundation for Educational Research in partnership with Brian Foster of the Inner London Traveller Education Consortium and Chris Derrington, an independent consultant.
"Schools that had developed a reputation for being caring and understanding of traveller culture maintained a loyal following of Gypsy, Roma and traveller families, sometimes over generations, despite the fact that it might not be the nearest school geographically," it says.
The report is part of a three-year study by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to find out how to improve Gypsy, Roma and traveller pupils' performance. The researchers are analysing the progress of children in 200 schools and visiting 20. Their final report is out next year.
Researchers say teachers should be more understanding of traveller pupils: "For many Gypsy, Roma and traveller parents, the key concern for the moral, physical and emotional safety of their children lay at the centre of all discussions around education and schooling," the report says.
"It is not always easy for teachers and other members of staff to fully appreciate this without having a clear insight into the experiences that these families face in wider society."
BRIDGING THE GAP
Examples of good practice from the report:
- Giving a senior staff member responsibility for Gypsy, Roma and traveller students signals that the community is valued and respected.
- Teachers should offer practical help, such as support with transport and help with the admissions process.
- Distance-learning helps children to keep up with work when travelling.
- Adult-learning courses also make schools seem more accessible.
- Schools should help pupils interact, and break down social and cultural barriers.
- They should also have a "problem-solving" approach, with teachers willing to meet parents and children halfway.
- Work-related courses and vocational experience should be offered.