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Travellers prefer a laptop to school

MOST pupils outside the school system don't want to go back and teachers don't want them there either, Edinburgh University researchers have discovered.

An investigation into the use of laptop computers among children outwith mainstream schools found that there has been patchy success in motivating them through the latest technology but also confirms that the majority of families want nothing to do with schools.

According to Pauline Padfield and Betty Jordan of the Scottish Traveller Education Programme, outreach teachers see their long-term aim as helping pupils return to schools. But pupils who have been excluded or who are part of Gypsy and traveller communities view it differently.

"The overwhelming majority did not want to go back to school and their parents were reported as happier for their children to be educated outwith school, because they perceived them to be safer and better controlled there than in their former mainstream schools. Significantly, the schools that excluded pupils were reported as not wanting them to return," the researchers state.

An estimated 1,600 pupils experience "interrupted learning". The Moray House researchers looked at teachers and young people in four local authorities and found that pupils outside the system "spontaneously commented upon the negative impact of larger mainstream class sizes on their learning".

They had difficulties attracting the teacher's attention and lacked support for their problems in class.

Some Gypsy and traveller pupils preferred the relative comfort of being nearer families and attending an on-site temporary classroom.

Teachers working in alternative bases face difficulties in carrying out their duties and regularly ferry teaching materials between multiple sites.

The reality of pupils' complex daily lives presents problems. They often fail to turn up or may have disappeared from their last address.

"Teachers reported that despite having the best of intentions and persistence in trying to make contact with their pupils, they frequently have to overcome personal andor professional disappointments. Generally these, they feel, are due to a pupil's disinterest and active avoidance of them as a teacher and the opportunity to learn," the researchers note.

Staff say children often cannot sit down for any length of time or make eye contact with them. "Other examples were given of children who do not know when they will next eat or where they will sleep at night. In some circumstances, often beyond the control of families, children move out of an area at a moment's notice.

"Such experiences are of continual concern and of greater immediacy to a pupil than any specific learning task."

Against this reality, the study contends that the potential to engage excluded or Gypsy and traveller children through new technology is being missed through second-class treatment. Authorities' support for teachers in outreach posts was "variable" in terms of laptops and mobile phones and back-up support.

The researchers say that authorities did not trust the pupils with laptops, "a view generally endorsed by teachers and providers in all phases of the research". Others argued that giving such children a laptop would signal to them the worth of learning.

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