Travellers abused after head's ban

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Council claims exclusion of six pupils is undermining its anti-racism efforts. Biddy Passmore reports

EALING Council, which prides itself on efforts to integrate Traveller children into school, fears its work has been seriously undermined by the stand-off over a violent playground incident at Southfield primary.

Council officers say the decision by headteacher Colin Lowther to ban the children of two Traveller families from his school - and to involve the media - has led to other Traveller families in the borough being verbally abused.

Mr Lowther's ban came as the council collaborated in the publication of a book on good practice in tackling racism and discrimination in Ealing's schools.

Borough officials are said to have been "shocked" by his behaviour. The council has told him that banning six children aged five to nine who were not involved in the incident was "unlawful".

It has warned that he risks a claim for racial discrimination from the families of the excluded children.

But David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers, which is supporting Mr Lowther, said the head had every right to keep the pupils away until the health and safety of the school could be guaranteed. And he urged the local authority to act with "a great deal more speed" in getting an injunction to ban violent family members from the premises.

In the incident, the mother of four of the Traveller pupils, her teenage daughter and a daughter from the other family, allegedly attacked a Somali mother in the playground, breaking her finger. A parent governor who tried to intervene was also attacked.

Mr Lowther suspended the six children for three days. After the pupils returned, he opted, on the NAHT's advice, to ban them on health and safety grounds.

Ealing has a support unit for the 250 Traveller children in its primary schools.

As The TES went to press, Caroline Whalley, director of education, was to meet Mr Lowther and Colin Bastin, chair of governors. The council wants the children re-integrated as soon as possible.

An injunction banning the mother involved in the incident was expected to be obtained this week. Separate legal restraints are being sought for the two juveniles. The three are also on bail facing police charges of causing an affray.

Mr Hart said: "The Government has set its face against formally excluding pupils for the behaviour of their parents. But it hasn't provided a solution when the parents' behaviour raises a real issue about the health and safety of the children in the school."

"Equality Stories" by Robin Richardson and Berenice Miles, published by Trentham Books. Tel: 01782 745567

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