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A rural secondary adopts a phased approach to aid transition

Case study

The case

Gypsy/Traveller families are a minority ethnic group and, as such, are protected by the Equality Act 2010. This legislation requires all public bodies such as local authorities to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it. This study illustrates how a school community put in place a range of measures to advance equality for Gypsy/Traveller children transitioning between primary and secondary schools.

Oban High is a six year non-denominational school situated on a single site near Oban centre. As well as the local pupils it also serves the surrounding villages and the scattered rural and island communities. In this large geographic catchment area there are 21 associated primary schools varying in size.  The school is located in an SIMD decile 3 area and had a roll in in excess of 1100 pupils.

The school worked closely with the catchment primary schools to identify at least 6 children from Gypsy/Traveller families who were vulnerable to not transitioning into secondary school over the following two academic sessions. Some of the children were from settled accommodation and lived in fixed housing and others were more mobile and based on sites.  All families identified as Gypsy/Travellers.  In all cases there was no precedent for attending school beyond the primary school stage.

Throughout primary all children had good attendance and the school reported that the children had developed good peer relationships.  The families told staff that they were reluctant for their children to attend secondary school; they did not see the relevance of the curriculum to their lives and they worried about the possible dilution of their culture if their children spent prolonged periods of unsupervised time with pupils from the settled community.

A PHASED APPROACH

The school acknowledged that, for the Gypsy/Traveller pupils, a smooth transition into secondary school may require enhanced support and alternative strategies.  Staff were proactive in attempting to build positive relationships with the families prior to the term start date, for example, a key staff member attended all planning meetings with families in the primary school to build up trust and be a known face.

Unfortunately, on the first day of term none of the pupils attended.  Although this was unexpected the school was in a positive position to reach out to families through the key staff member. Through the perseverance of staff communications were reopened.  The families were still reluctant for their children to attend school but wanted their children to be educated.  A compromise was reached where the school offered outreach sessions at a local community venue away from the school.  This was accepted by the families and the relationship between school, children and families began to grow.

After some time a plan was drawn up to utilise some of the school’s facilities to enhance the learning and teaching for the children.  The parents were persuaded for the pupils to attend the Additional Support Needs base, which is within the secondary school complex but with some phased divisions and the option of a separate entrance.  This was successful in breaking down the barriers of having the children physically in the school complex and the parents were reassured by being able to drop off and collect the children.  After this pattern was established the next phase was to use the wider school for education purposes. When the parents were introduced to the technology and home education facilities they could see the benefits of the wider school setting, albeit that the pupils were still in their own small group.

The most recent phase has been to maintain a reduced timetable but the school have begun to introduce some new subject areas that they felt would be culturally relevant, for example,  History and  Expressive Arts have been identified.  A major development has been that through the build up of trust families are now agreeing to their children mixing with the rest of the school community for periods of time.

Scotland’s Approach to Education

The initial narrative for Curriculum for Excellence has been revised to set it within the current context. The revised narrative emphasises the need to place learners at the heart of education.  At the centre of the curriculum are the four capacities, which reflect and recognise the lifelong nature of education and learning.  The Gypsy/Traveller pupils in this case are less likely than most pupils to experience a linear progression through their education due to a range of cultural factors. The school recognised the family entitlement to an education as a minority ethnic group.  They met their responsibilities as education providers  by creating flexible pathways back into learning to ensure that pupils did not  become completely disengaged.

The new curricular narrative suggests the need for the children to know and understand themselves as individuals. During the phased period of transition the school supported the development of trusting relationships within and between families, the school and the wider community.

The school developed a greater understanding of the skills and attributes that were valued by families as contributing to success within Gypsy/Traveller culture.  The children are now in an informed position with regard to their learning, making them emerging democratic citizens and active shapers of their own education. Staff knowledge of the community enables them to ensure that skills for learning, life and work are at the heart of the Gypsy/Traveller pupils’ curriculum.

SCHOOL STAFF AND LEARNING AND SUPPORT NEEDS

The school staff consulted with STEP in regard to how to firm up the transition model.  Training was delivered to the guidance team on key cultural awareness issues and plans are to roll out to the wider school staff.

CHALLENGE QUESTIONS

How well do we communicate with parents, partners and learning across these key themes?

Have we successfully established an inclusive learning environment? How do we know?

How well are families supported in developing strategies which lead to positive relationships, better learning and better behaviour?

To what extent do our processes for: involving children and young people; parents, carers and families; and partners and other agencies ensure effective transitions for all learners?

How effectively do we support parents and carers to participate in, contribute to and understand their child’s learning?

Have we successfully established an inclusive learning environment? How do we know?

How well do we communicate with parents, partners and learning across these key themes?

How do we ensure there is an ethos and culture of inclusion, participation and positive relationships across the whole learning community?

How well do we enable parents, carers and families and the local community to contribute to the life of the school and be involved in school improvement?

OUTCOMES

  • Gypsy/Traveller pupils who were in danger of disengaging from education due to cultural differences are still participating in the life of the school.  
  • Staff have increased knowledge of the Gypsy/Traveller community and the staff skills that will be required to offer a coherent transition. 
  • The benefits of the revised approach to transition are not limited to the Gypsy/Traveller community but all pupils who may need enhanced transitions. 
  • Families have greater understanding of the benefits of education to their culture 
  • Trust has been established between the wider Gypsy/Traveller community and the school resulting in a smoother transition process in the current academic year for the new S1 year group.  

POLICY AND LEGAL CONTEXT

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

  • Article 28 (right to education) of the UNCRC states that every child has the right to an education.
  • Article 29 (goals of education) Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full. It must encourage the child’s respect for human rights, as well as respect for their parents, their own and other cultures, and the environment.
  • Article 30 (children from minority or indigenous groups) States that every child has the right to learn and use the language, customs and religion of their family, whether or not these are shared by the majority of the people in the country where they live.

Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act 2010 race is a protected characteristic. Gypsy/Travellers are a minority ethnic group and are protected by the Act.

The Equality Duty has three aims. It requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act;
  • to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it;
  • and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 as amended 2009 and 2016 provides the legal framework for supporting children and young people in their school education, and their families.

The framework is based on the idea of additional support needs and applies to children or young people who, for whatever reason, require additional support, in the long or short term, in order to help them make the most of their school education and to be included fully in their learning.

Gypsy/Traveller pupils may require additional support for a variety of reasons and may include but are not limited to those who:

  • are being bullied
  • have experienced bereavement
  • are affected by imprisonment
  • are interrupted learners
  • are looked after by a local authority
  • have a learning difficulty
  • are not attending school regularly
  • have emotional and social difficulties
  • are young carers