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Upwardly mobile in a rather posh caravan

Valerie Moody is the first female member of a fairground community to receive the MBE. Amanda Kelly reports on her efforts to improve travellers' education

Like most traveller children of her generation, Valerie Moody was failed by her schools.

Attending two or three different schools a month, she was bullied for her unconventional fairground background and was pleased to abandon her studies at 13 - without a single academic qualification.

She spent her teens looking after her younger brothers and sisters and operating the helter-skelter or ghost train with her parents.

Ms Moody, 56, who is married to a showman, said: "My family's fairground roots go back eight generations but it is only during our lifetime that the education of traveller children has moved up the political agenda.

"When I was at school, the other children and even the teachers thought we were gypsies and did not want anything to do with us. We sat at the back of the class and learned nothing. By the time we had learned the teacher's name and grasped where the toilets were, we were on the move again.

"Most of the education I got was self-taught. I used to love reading and would always find the local library wherever we were. But they wouldn't let me borrow the books because I had no fixed address."

When her own son and daughter were born, Ms Moody was determined that they should receive a more structured schooling.

As national education liaison officer of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain for the past 12 years, she has worked with schools, education authorities and a host of advisory panels and committees to raise the profile of the 20,000-strong fairground community and the education of its children. Her work earned her an MBE in this year's Queen's Birthday honours list.

She spends much f her time passing on her experiences to travelling communities in France and other European countries.

Ms Moody's community tours the North-east. But the children now have much more stability in their schooling. She said: "These days almost all of our children spend each winter at the same school and are away only between Easter and November. This ensures continuity in their learning. In the months away, they receive distance-learning materials and regular visits from local teachers who mark their work and tutor them. There has been an enormous attitude change in our community. Leaving school with no qualifications is no longer the expectation.

"My son left school with eight GCSEs and that is quite typical. He now combines an electronics business with working in the fair."

And attitudes to fairground families are changing. "The bullying of fairground children has also decreased as their classmates realise that living in a mobile home is not that different from their own experience."

To challenge stereotypes Ms Moody invites parties of children to her 40-foot four-wheel home. She said: "A lot of the kids come expecting a dirty and primitive caravan with no running water and flea-infested dogs everywhere. So they are surprised to find a brand new kitchen, bedroom with en-suite bathroom, and a plush three-piece suite."

When she formally receives her MBE, she will be the first female member of a fairground community to receive such an honour.

"It is a terrific sign that we are beginning to be viewed as a valuable part of society."

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