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AN URBAN PRIMARY SCHOOL BUILDS A CURRICULUM TO REFLECT MINORITY ETHNIC MEMBERS OF ITS COMMUNITY

St. Francis’ is a co-educational, denominational school serving the greater Craigmillar area of Edinburgh. In August 2019 there were 10 classes as well as a nurture class of 8 – 10 pupils across the P1 and P2 stage and at the second level. The modern building provides class accommodation and break out spaces to enhance the learning environment, including a sensory room, an oratory, a library, a studio for the creative arts, a literacy room, a collaborative working base, and an ASfL base.  An ASfL teacher supports literacy 3 days a week.

St Francis is a Scottish Attainment Challenge School with 83.6% of pupils living in deciles 1 and 2. In addition the pupil population includes 51.2% EAL. The school is close to a Gypsy/Traveller site although it currently has only 4 Scottish Gypsy/Travellers on the school roll and those pupils come from settled housing in the area. The number of Gypsy/Travellers attending is unpredictable and fluctuates throughout the year.

A GYPSY/TRAVELLER BOY’S EXPERIENCE

To understand some of the needs facing a pupil from the Gypsy/Traveller community in this area we describe the background to John who has been a part of the school community for some time. John is in P7 and his family ascribed him as Gypsy/Traveller when he first enrolled in primary one. John’s care is shared between his grandparents and his mother and he has suffered bereavement in recent years. His four older sisters attended the same primary school in the past but attendance at secondary school was inconsistent and problematic.

John’s literacy and numeracy attainment is below the expected levels for his age.  He has problems focusing on desk-based learning for extended periods, however, he excels in practical and problem-solving tasks. He has benefited from the school nurture programme and has received additional support to help him learn how to learn as well as improve his anger management. John’s behaviour has recently deteriorated in response to an increasingly unsettled home environment and tensions with school peers. John’s family has informed the school that he will not go to secondary school as they fear bullying and discrimination will increase and will not be managed by school staff.

APPROACH

The primary school recognises that for some pupils a smooth pathway through a broad general education and the senior phase may not be possible. The school acknowledges that, for Gypsy/Traveller pupils like John, learning may be interrupted following primary school. Learning may take place in families, in the community or in other locations. To produce the best life chances for pupils like John the staff have put the pupils at the heart of a new curriculum and created activities that maximise their ability to cope with shifting learning environments- or in some cases, an absence of formal learning. They have held conversations with parents, pupils and local stakeholders to understand the knowledge, skills and attributes that the pupils will most benefit from during their time in primary education.

To support their approach the school has revisited the revised narrative for Curriculum for Excellence outlining the principles of curriculum making. Skills for learning, life and work are at the heart of the curriculum and these are informed by a deep staff knowledge of the school community as well as knowledge of how to build a curriculum that meets the needs of Gypsy/Traveller learners.

UNDERSTANDING THE LEARNER

Through the revised curriculum John has experienced increased agency over his own learning.  Using a tablet device around the school he has identified the areas where he experiences a sense of belonging as well as those areas that cause discomfort. The approach offered a way for John to share his experiences with staff and to inform subsequent inclusion strategies.

KNOWING THE BIG IDEAS

The Gypsy/Traveller community face challenges that include but are not limited to accessing education.  Additional support needs and wellbeing concerns can be triggered by interruptions to learning, poor access to housing and health, poverty, race discrimination and a range of cultural factors relating to family illiteracy, traditions and mobility. Staff will need to involve families and other agencies in developing a shared local vision to achieve the best outcomes for each child.

Where wellbeing and poor attainment are issues the development of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing are of paramount importance. In John’s case the creative use of digital technology overcame the learning constraints that come with low literacy – a common feature in highly capable Gypsy/Traveller learners. Device use also opened up engaging activities that made connections with other relevant curricular areas.  By taking a leading role in a project to landscape the school grounds John experienced a range of interdisciplinary learning opportunities that were relevant to his own interests and those of his extended family. Importantly, this approach did not stereotype John with a homogenous position on Gypsy/Traveller culture.  Instead, it was creative, relevant and inspiring for many of John’s peers and allowed him to excel and develop his talents while bypassing an exaggerated focus on difference.

BEING CLEAR ON PRACTICAL APPROACHES

In John’s case a carefully planned personalised curriculum was central to his continued engagement in school.  By reviewing and refining the curriculum against the seven design principles staff were able to achieve the relevance, personalisation, breadth and coherence that John needed. Weekly horse riding classes provided an increased motivation to attend as well as strong links to family culture. Participation in an animation group that created films based on a risk assessment for a school nurture dog offered John an opportunity to develop his practical skills within a meaningful context, and leading on fundraising for a children’s cancer charity appealed to John’s caring nature and developed a wide range of entrepreneurial, citizenship, literacy and health and wellbeing skills.  Additionally, to prepare for difficult emotional periods he has learned coping strategies and is able to seek out the security offered by certain spaces within the school complex where he feels safe. During holidays he has also been able to maintain some continuity by attending community-led sessions within the school complex.

USING MEANINGFUL NETWORKS

The school staff have made use of many agencies to support pupils like John such as Barnardos, STEP (the Scottish Traveller Education Programme), School Nursing Services and Psychological Services.  Additionally,  a new Team Around the School that includes Additional Support for Learning Services and Police Scotland has been formed.

KNOWING YOUR OWN LEARNING AND SUPPORT NEEDS

The school staff have been involved in training through STEP which has used the GTCS professional standards.  With a specific focus on social justice and trust and respect they have been able to challenge their own assumptions about how inclusive their practice has been. By focusing on the knowledge of that the Gypsy/Travellers bring as well as the race, curriculum and inclusion policies the staff can feel part of a thriving learning community.

CHALLENGING QUESTIONS

Do I believe that some things in education are unavoidable?

 

Why do I think that?

How well are children and young people involved in planning and identifying opportunities for personalisation and choice?

 

How effective are our approaches to support wellbeing (e.g. buddies, mentors, safe areas)?

 

How do you measure the impact of these approaches?

 

How do I interact with different individuals/groups?

 

How are these interactions influence by my own beliefs and assumptions about social justice/inclusion/ equality/sustainability?

OUTCOMES

  • Family and staff have developed trusting relationships and a shared responsibility for John’s education.
  • Staff has increased knowledge of the Gypsy/Traveller community and the skills that will be required to offer the pupils the broadest range of life choices.
  • The benefits of the revised approach to curriculum building are not limited to the Gypsy/Traveller community but all pupils and staff.

POLICY AND LEGAL CONTEXT

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

  • Article 28 (right to education) states that every child has the right to an education.
  • 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 is set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.  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