What the resource is.
This 27 minute video is part of the How am I different? series of Teachers TV programmes which aims to give a voice to children living in challenging circumstances. This observational documentary tells the personal story of Shannon Collins, a ten year old Traveller girl of Irish heritage. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children do not belong to one homogenous community and their needs and experiences are as diverse as any other. However, as a group, these pupils have significantly lower attainment than their peers at all Key Stages (DCSF, 2009). Traveller Girl is an uplifting and inspirational film narrated throughout by Shannon herself. The filming takes places in and around the site in east London where Shannon lives as well as at her primary school. It includes contributions from her class teacher about the ways in which Traveller pupils' needs can be met more effectively. Further interviews with Shannon's mother and older brother and sister reveal certain cultural pressures and highlight the tensions that are commonly voiced by Travellers who recognise the value of formal education and acknowledge the barriers that stand in the way.
The aims of the resource
The film aims to raise awareness of Traveller culture and exposes some of the educational and social issues faced by Shannon and other Traveller children living in similar circumstances. It ensures that young Travellers are not portrayed in a stigmatising way and sets out to challenge some of the myths and stereotypes associated with these communities. It is a particularly useful resource for teachers who have had limited prior contact with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils and families and only a partial understanding of cultural influences. Perceptions shaped largely by negative media messages may lead to discriminatory practice and low teacher expectations. By giving Shannon (and her family) a voice, the film offers genuine and first-hand insight into the Traveller way of life and the issues that affect them including the threat of eviction and its impact on continuity of education. The film effectively portrays the importance of the extended family network in Traveller communities. It also provides positive images of young Travellers including a confident Shannon speaking publically and lobbying at a conference and her brother discussing roots of prejudice.
Key findings or focus
This is well produced and engaging observational documentary covers a range of important educational as well as social issues. It effectively demonstrates:
- Travellers' commitment to education - Shannon speaks enthusiastically about her primary school and clearly enjoys attending. This commitment is also demonstrated when her parents and siblings leave the site to go travelling for two months whilst she stays behind and lives with her extended family in order to continue her education.
- Motives for and effects of travelling - although her family has recently been allocated a permanent plot on the site, Shannon's mother provides an insight into the psychological need for travel that is commonly articulated by Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. A poignant moment in the film is when Shannon reels off a long list of towns and cities where she has lived and gone to school during the previous few years.
- Insight into accommodation issues for Travellers - the film shows positive images of homes as well as highlighting serious issues in relation to site provision. Shannon speaks authoritatively about speculative plans to bulldoze the site to make way for a new tube line and pleads with policy makers to consider the needs of the families living there. Shannon's sense of resilience, personal determination and level of maturity may surprise some teachers.
- The impact and prevalence of racist name-calling in schools. Personal experiences recounted by both Shannon and her siblings have a powerful impact and suggest that teachers need to be more alert and responsive to this type of behaviour.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource.
Overall, this is a powerful film which can be used to raise the awareness of trainees and other education professionals about the challenges that Traveller children may face both in and out of school. Viewers should be aware that some of the issues raised in the film are more relevant for some groups of Travellers than others. For example, several references made to the lack of accommodation on authorised sites and frequent threat of eviction clearly impact more on those families without a legal place to live. It is important to note here that the majority of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families these days live either in housing, on permanent sites or on their own land. However, these are real issues for some families (especially Travellers of Irish heritage) and it is important for teachers to understand the impact of this on children's lives. The video focuses mainly on primary education although interviews with Shannon's older brother and sister highlight certain challenges in relation to secondary school.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact.
This 27 minute film could be used as part of a programme or module focussing on inclusive education or equality issues. It could be used as a stimulus for discussion/research or to raise initial awareness about the challenges and inequality that some Traveller pupils encounter. Because the story is told through the voice of a Traveller child, the impact can be greater than if explained by a tutor. This resource is ideal for use by tutors/mentors whose own awareness of issues around the education of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller pupils is limited. Tutors should ensure that trainees are aware of the diversity that exists within and between different Traveller communities.
The relevance to ITE students. - how and why it has importance.
Historically, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families have been marginalised by society. Like other members of the settled community, many trainees will have limited knowledge or first- hand experience of these communities and may enter their training with negative, stereotyped perceptions. Many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families do not declare their ethnicity because of a long history of racial prejudice and discrimination. This resource can help to challenge prejudices and is therefore relevant regardless of whether or not Gypsy, Roma, Traveller pupils are known to attend placement/partner schools.
The relevance to early career teachers: (if applicable)
All teachers need to be aware of the longstanding and well- documented record of poor educational outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils. Research has linked their underachievement with low teacher expectations and social exclusion in school as well as with cultural influences (Derrington, 2007). The resource has clear implications therefore for addressing Every Child Matters and Community Cohesion duties.
The following might be useful to read in conjunction with this resource:
Other videos in the series How Am I Different?
Seeking Asylum- The story of a 14-year-old asylum seeker's life in the UK.
Caring for mum - A moving documentary revealing the impact of parental illness.
Link or Article ID number:
Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) Moving Forward together: Raising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller achievement. London: DCSF.
Derrington, C. (2007) Fight, flight and playing white: An examination of coping strategies adopted by Gypsy Traveller Adolescents in English secondary schools.
International Journal of Educational Research, 46, 6, 357-367
Reviewer: Dr Chris Derrington