Kate Evans is head of the Traveller education service for Sutton and Merton local authority (LA). Adele Gregory is a parent of Romany Gypsy heritage, and her daughter Tayla was due to transfer to secondary school in September 2007.
Kate Evans: What are your best hopes for your education - what do you want out of your time at school?
Tayla: I want to do well, be happy and not be bullied, make friends and achieve my goals.
Adele: I want both my kids to be treated well at school to feel comfortable within a group, get a good education and reach their full potential.
K: Many Traveller children drop out of school early, at about 14. Why do you think that is?
A: Well there are quite a few reason for this, which you may find easy or hard to understand. From the moment our children are born, like most parents our children are our pride and joy, and as part of our way of life we treat our children, in many ways like grown ups, we eat the same meals at the same time, and have open family discussions.
Many travelling men take their children to work with them at weekends and teach them valuable life skills, whilst the girls will be at home with mum also picking up many skills. Also family life - looking after one another (such as gran, granddad, younger siblings) becomes a way of life, and bring much love and respect, which teaches our children from a very young age, self pride, respect, morals, and the importance of family life and looking after each other. So therefore by the age of 14 they are like men and women, and no longer seem like children. They may suffer peer pressure from other Traveller children to work - for that is seen as a man's worth and self respect; also a Traveller child is mostly beyond his or her years because of their upbringing and no longer fit in with school life.
Also if a child has missed school, for any reason be it bullying, family problems, being moved on from place to place, that unsettling feeling plus work missed can then add to more pressure and bullying, as for no reason of their own they have missed a lot of work and are unable to keep up with the pressure of being 14 and hormones and GCSE's.
I mean how would you feel if your child was in the middle of their GCSE's and you came home from work to find a notice of eviction on your front door? Just because the locals five miles down the road didn't want your children to go to the same school as their children, and didn't want to pass your house!
K: What is the key to keep young people engaged in school?
A: Remember all the things I have said, treat them with respect, and feeling for their way of life. Remember they have been born into this culture and it's what they know and trust and [what] they are proud of. Support these children at an early age from primary onwards. Offer support and homework help to children and parents.
Many Travellers want ask for help [but] they are too proud and also think that you may be judging them and prying into their way of life.
Also remember that a lot of older Travellers have been on the road most or part of their lives and have not had a full education themselves, so are unable to help their child, and there's no way on this earth a Traveller parent would want to seem like they are letting their child down in anyway.
Even many housed Travellers have had their education suffer at sometime, because of bullying, of not being allowed to fit it . Adults can be worse at bullying than children at schools as they are what feed a child's mind.
Encourage a Traveller child to do well, pick a project or subject which you know will get their attention and they will know about, they'll want to tell you all and enjoy talking about their culture and way of life, follow them through into secondary school and pass on the knowledge of what you have learnt about these children to others who can then take over your role. Of course other work will have to be done alongside of the things they love and know (best of both worlds) never say they could achieve more then being a builder, a tarmacer, landscaper - after all their fathers and grandfathers have been doing these jobs for years and have done very nicely thank you.
But do encourage Traveller children to learn things such as accounts, business studies, etc. [which] will come in handy with whatever they decide to become, and reading and writing can benefit all of the family.
Life's always going to change and we need to keep up with the times. The streets are hard to work now, and even to run a lorry and do certain jobs you need a licence now, and as the years go on it will become harder.
The whole world is green! And that's all we have ever known and we have been recycling for years! I mean how many Gorger totters [non-GRT rag and bone collectors] do you know?
K: Traveller children have support services dedicated just to them. Do you think we are prioritising the right children, the right work at the right time?
A: I think that support services should work together, ie housing and education and education welfare officer.
I think backing these children needs to be early on, from primary, and such things as SATS at the ages of 9 and 11 should be explained to the children and parents at least a year before.
Leaflets about the benefits of school should go home to parents, and be seen to be working together and including parents, where you can. I think culture days should be a thing in schools one day a year every year! So we all get a chance to show off our beliefs and cultures - after all we have enough bank holidays and days off for everything else, let's have a day in school and have stalls that share our foods, clothes, ways of life, therefore making it part of life and for kids everywhere to get involved.
Also more involvement, with parents as their children are going from primary into secondary, make it clear, don't say 'KS2 to KS3‘. What's that? You need to make your words understood.
Also make people understand that home tutoring is not really the way to go! Social skills are so important to a child's life, and it's really not the easy option, nor the best!
Also tell adults about education groups they might enjoy going to, you're never to old to learn! And I'm learning all the time and it feels great to be able to help and encourage other people. Wouldn't it be nice that in the years ahead we had a Traveller education service run for Travellers by Travellers?
K: Many Traveller families are wary of bullying at school-what's your experience?
A: My Children have experienced being pushed around, name calling, such as 'get back in your caravan you pikey‘, 'dirty gyppo.' My son has been kicked and hit in the face with a lunch box, even though I have talked in his school about Traveller life.
The school has been good and has dealt with any complaint I've ever had. I have also taken books on our culture into school and suggested that the bully should take it home and read and then write a story on our culture, which worked quite well.
I have also taken in pictures of my home, and the children now think my son is a prince and lives in a palace.
I was asked by a woman at the school, 'So how long have you been a Gypsy then? I had to have a slight giggle but didn't want to appear rude, so I explained, 'I was born with this blood.'
K: Do you think your ambitions and experiences of school would have been different if you had lived on a site?
A: That's hard to answer! I don't think it would have been much different, maybe more peer pressure, but times are changing daily, we all have to move with the times.
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