There are seven Gypsy Traveller pupils at my placement school and one of the boys is in my class. He seems to get on well with the other children in the classroom but at playtimes and lunchtimes, the Traveller children just all congregate together and don't mix socially at all. The lunchtime supervisors always complain about ‘the Gypsy Gang' and I have to admit that this clannish behaviour could be seen as intimidating. I feel I ought to say something but I am not sure what.
1. Addressing the issue raised in the scenario:
There are actually two main issues raised within this scenario. The first relates to the actual observed social behaviour of the Gypsy Traveller pupils on the playground and in the dining hall and whether or not this is a problem, the second concerns the interpretation and response of the lunchtime supervisors. Let's consider these in turn.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) pupils make up a small minority of the overall school population and as such, often find themselves socially and culturally isolated in school. Due to restrictive planning legislation and negative public attitudes, Traveller communities are often forced to live in outlying and marginalised locations away from the settled community, which reinforces a sense of ‘otherness' and difference. Added to this, because Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have endured a long history of persecution and discrimination from wider society, these communities tend to be self-contained and closely knit. Romany Gypsies and Travellers of Irish Heritage are recognised as ethnic groups under Race Relations legislation.
The situation you describe on the playground is not that uncommon and a number of research studies have found that GRT pupils typically seek out one another's company at school and choose to play with other Travellers. This may be because they are guarded socially, having been brought up to look out for (or protect) one another, it may be because they are/have been excluded (overtly or more subtly) by the other children, or they may just simply prefer the company of children they have grown up with and with whom they have many things in common. The first two reasons would suggest there may be distinct racial tensions which need to be addressed at a whole school level. You say that the boy in your class seems to get on well with the other children but you might want to look a little more closely at these relationships to check out your instincts. Do other children choose to work with him/sit by him? Is he involved in all aspects of classroom life? Does he have a special friend or group of friends in the class?
Even though schools must have policies in place to promote race equality, community cohesion and to address bullying, the actions, words and behaviour of individuals can actually undermine these good intentions and all members of staff must be aware of their own responses and professional (and legal) duties in this respect. This brings us to the lunchtime supervisors and their use of language. It would appear that these colleagues view the situation as a problem - a potential threat and the Traveller pupils could become scapegoats as a result. Perhaps this is already happening? You intimate that you find this ‘clannish' behaviour intimidating. Emotive labels such as ‘the Gypsy Gang' could quickly become adopted throughout the school, and generate tension. This kind of language needs to be challenged and if you feel uncomfortable about discussing this with the staff concerned, you should certainly talk to your school-based mentor about it, in the context of community cohesion.
There is a growing body of research suggesting that Traveller pupils regularly encounter racism but tend to deal with it by retaliating verbally or physically (including retaliation on behalf of others). It is also recognised that this group of pupils are disproportionately excluded from school as a result. Since these actions often take place where children are less closely supervised (on the playground, in corridors, in the dining hall, on school transport) it is imperative for all staff to be alert to signs of harassment and bullying and understand their duty in addressing these problems.
It may be of course that the Traveller children congregate together at playtime and lunchtime because they just prefer one another's company. They feel more comfortable together because they can be ‘themselves'. Even though there may be no apparent evidence of racial bullying or social exclusion, we still need to ask why they might feel less comfortable mixing with other children outside the classroom. Is diversity truly valued and celebrated? Does the curriculum reflect Traveller culture? Are Traveller pupils withdrawn from lessons for additional help? Are they welcomed back after periods of Travelling? Are citizenship and emotional literacy embedded within the curriculum? On a more practical note, are all children encouraged to try different play activities? Is playground equipment accessible to all? Why not spend some time talking to and getting to know the Traveller children on the playground, listen to what they have to say. They may even give you the answers you are seeking and help to identify the way forward.
2. Finding out about rights and responsibilities:
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) places three general duties on all schools and other public bodies:
-to eliminate discrimination
-to promote equality of opportunity
-to promote good ‘race' relations
All schools are required to:
-actively promote ‘race' equality
- prepare a ‘race' equality policy
-monitor attainment by ethnicity, using new, electronic data systems
-monitor exclusions by ethnicity
-monitor progress and make such information publicly available
Since September 2007, a duty has been placed on all maintained schools in England to promote community cohesion.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has published Guidance on the Duty to Promote Community Cohesion, (2007) which defines community cohesion as:
'...working towards a society in which there is a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people's backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.' (DCSF 2007, page 3).
Q2: Demonstrate the positive values, attitudes and behaviour they expect from children and young people.
Q18: Understand how children and young people develop and that the progress and well-being of learners are affected by a range of developmental, social, religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic influences.
Q19: Know how to make effective personalised provision for those they teach, including those for whom English is an additional language or who have special educational needs or disabilities, and how to take practical account of diversity and promote equality and inclusion in their teaching.
Find out more:
3. Using relevant Multiverse resources:
To see case studies of how other primary schools have promoted equality and worked successfully with Gypsy Traveller pupils please see, Raising the achievement of Gypsy Roma and Traveller pupils (DCSF, 2008)
Perhaps you could download this short booklet and use it as a starting point to discuss your concerns with your mentor or other colleagues.
If you are interested in finding out what other research has been undertaken in this area, a literature review of all the studies conducted over the past 10 years - including those related to aspects of identity and social behaviour, published by the DCSF is available from Multiverse, Literature Review - Outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Pupils (2009).
For a summary go to Outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Pupils: Summary
For the full literature review go to Outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Pupils: Literature Review
The National association of Teachers of Travellers (NATT+) has put together a comprehensive catalogue of classroom resources reflecting Traveller culture. If your school does not already have a good selection of such resources you could order a free copy and place it in the staffroom.
For a tool to help your school audit it's practice in relation to Race Equality, go to the QCA Respect for All Audit Tool