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Traveller eviction could slash primary's numbers, but it vows to remain open

The school at the heart of Europe's largest illegal Traveller site has pledged to stay open even though a large proportion of its pupils could be forced to leave if their pitch is cleared.

Travellers at Dale Farm in Essex lost a high-profile High Court battle last week to stop the clearance of their settlement, following a 10-year feud with Basildon Borough Council over unauthorised pitches on the site.

A forced eviction of 86 families is expected to follow this month.

Despite 97 per cent of pupils at Crays Hill Primary near Billericay - which is located about one mile away from Dale Farm - being from the Traveller community, its chair of governors Jo Lang has insisted that there is a future for the unique school.

"The school has been planning for this eventuality for some time," she said.

"We are absolutely certain that we won't be closing Crays Hill. There is a need for it and it will carry on. It is a school for any child who comes through our doors.

"We've kept an eye on what could happen if the numbers drop by so much and the impact that it could have on the budget.

"But not all of the school is affected; we have some (pupils) on the legal side, so even following a land clearance it would not take away every child."

According to the most recent statistics from Essex County Council, Crays Hill has 110 pupils, of which 107 are Traveller children.

Of these, 25 live on the illegal pitch and would be directly affected by the clearance.

Ms Lang hinted that there could be implications for the teachers at Crays Hill once the full eviction has gone ahead.

"In the long term we might have to look at the staffing structure, in the way that every school does," she said.

But parents are very worried. Mary Sheridan, mother of two children who attend Crays Hill, said her children's education would be in jeopardy should the planned eviction go ahead.

Ms Sheridan told The TES: "It will have a big impact. They won't get any education.

"The way they are going to develop will be a mess. The children are not going to learn how to use the internet or how to use a mobile properly and their lives will be restricted."

But Ms Lang said: "We are naturally concerned for the welfare of the children and families, whether on the legal side or not.

"There will be lots of support in place for the children and staff."

An Essex County Council spokeswoman said: "The school will be open throughout the eviction and is encouraging pupils to attend wherever possible.

"We do not yet know if the site clearance will have any impact on attendance at Crays Hill Primary, therefore it is too early to comment on plans for the school after the eviction."

Labour report

More Traveller pupils stay on track

The previous Labour government last year commissioned major research into the underperformance of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in English schools. The report concluded that:

- targeted interventions aimed at improving low educational outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are beginning to have an impact, but these pupils remain among the worst performing groups;

- Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils tend to be concentrated in schools with below-average results, although there is some evidence of a growing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller middle class with a number of educationally successful pupils;

- an estimated 80 per cent of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils go on to secondary school. However, one in five continues to leave the education system at the end of primary school;

- just over half the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils in the national cohort were successfully retained in school until Year 11.

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