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SCHOOLS should be advocates for Gypsy and Traveller children while at the same time "upholding the integrity of the family".

New guidance launched this week by Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, also calls on local authorities to be more innovative in their approaches and to reserve short-term pre-school places "with rapid access arrangements".

The guidance, Inclusive Educational Approaches for Gypsies and Travellers, was produced by the Scottish Traveller Education Programme (STEP) supported by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities and Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Speaking at the launch of the guidelines in Collin, Dumfries, Ms Jamieson said: "Many Gypsy and Traveller children face barriers when they try to access education services. This guidance will help to address these and the need to look at alternatives to school education."

The guidance calls on local authorities and schools to make sure that a senior member of management takes responsibility for the needs of Gypsy and Traveller communities. There should be annual targets to boost the number of children from such families attending school.

The contribution of handheld records and personal learning plans in providing support for interrupted learners and their families should be reviewed, the guidance states. Existing pilot schemes on the use of ICT-based distance education for pupils who cross local authority boundaries also need to be evaluated.

Ms Jamieson said that schools and authorities had to be particularly alert to the problems of bullying and racism. The "One Scotland" campaign launched recently, which aims to celebrate multiculturalism, must include their communities, she said.

Copies of the guidance, which will be sent to all schools and local authorities, are available on the STEP website at www.education.ed.ac.ukstep.

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