Innovative Practice - On the road, online

25th November 2011 at 00:00
Providing Traveller children with laptops so they can keep up with school work and talk to their friends

The background

A number of pupils in the Swansea area are from Occupational Traveller families, with parents who work at fairs around Wales during the summer season, from April until the October half-term. These children travel with their parents, missing a great deal of school, which has a significant impact on their academic attainment and their ability to reintegrate into school life after several months of absence. Swansea council's Traveller education service wanted to help these pupils by providing laptops to aid their studies during their time away from school.

The project

The pilot started in 2008 with a Year 7 pupil at Penyrheol Comprehensive School. A Traveller pupil was given a laptop to take with him when his family were out of the area, and his parents agreed to buy a device to provide him with wi-fi internet access. The Year 7 pastoral assistant kept in regular contact with the boy and his family via email and ensured that work in all subjects was sent to him electronically, with deadlines for when it should be returned. Teachers tried to make sure he had a good grasp of each subject and would not be too far behind when he returned to school.

The pupil sent emails about how he was getting on, which were put up on his form class noticeboard. That way, his fellow pupils could follow his progress and write back to him.

Assistant head Sarah Collier, the boy's head of year at the time, says: "We thought it was a superb idea and it was very successful. His parents were totally on board because they didn't want him to miss out on his studies or lose contact with the school and his peers. It can be a bit frightening coming back into school after a few months away, but he felt very comfortable coming back because of the contact he had."

Tips from the scheme

- Good communication between all parties is vital, as is a good relationship with the families of the pupils involved. The school considered a number of ways of keeping in contact with the pupil when his family was travelling and discussed them with his parents before a final strategy was agreed.

- A co-ordinator at the school should make sure work is regularly collected from teachers, sent to the pupils involved and then passed back to the teachers when it has been received.

- Each pupil must be set individual targets and their progress must be monitored closely so they are not behind when they return to school.

Evidence that it works?

Ms Collier said the pilot worked very effectively, having a positive impact on the pupil's academic achievement and social skills. The school now plans to offer laptops to its three other pupils from Occupational Traveller families.

Welsh inspectorate Estyn has highlighted the project as an example of best practice in a report into the education of Gypsy and Traveller pupils in secondary schools.

The project

Approach: Giving laptops to Traveller children

Started: 2008

Leaders: Swansea council's Traveller education service and Sarah Collier, assistant head of Penyrheol Comprehensive School

The school

Name: Penyrheol Comprehensive School

Location: Swansea, South Wales

Number of pupils: 924

Age range: 11-16

Intake: Inspectors say the school serves an area that is "neither particularly prosperous nor disadvantaged, but includes the whole range of socio-economic circumstances"

Ofsted overall rating: Good (2008).

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