Teachers’ insights on transitions:
Exploring the educational transitions among Scottish Travelling communities
This information is taken from research carried out by STEP in 2015 Transitions and Scottish Travelling Communities project. The research consulted with teachers from 10 local authorities across Scotland. Based on their own experiences, the teachers discussed the barriers and successful strategies they had used to improve transitions for children and young people from mobile communities. The following provides a summary of their insights.
Absence of transition strategies
Teachers explained that some local authorities have no specific transition strategies for Gypsy/Traveller communities. As a result, many families do not receive the necessary support and guidance. One teacher stated that families from travelling communities require more support, and for a longer period of time, including post-transition support. When schools do not have the time or resources to support the process it will likely result in poor engagement in education or a failed transition.
On account of the travelling communities’ mobility pattern, families may miss the transition and induction processes. One teacher noted that unless the families felt confident sharing their plans, it was very difficult to reach them or maintain contact. Educational continuity was also an issue with transitions between schools. Despite schools’ best efforts in contacting previous schools it was challenging to gather the necessary records and information. This was particularly challenging when families moved from England and Ireland.
Teachers stated that although families may want their child to be educated at home, they do not have the necessary level of literacy or resources. Some families also find it difficult to accept that in order to gain certification and qualifications, the child must still enrol in a school or centre.
Families may have negative feelings toward formal education. They may fear that their children will be bullied, will experience increased risk taking or that mixing with people outwit the community will threaten cultural values. Deep rooted traditions with clearly defined gender roles mean that young people may be given age- and gender-specific responsibilities from a young age. This could include girls caring for younger members of the family and boys working with their fathers.
Culture and curriculum content
Teachers felt that there was inconsistency between schools in relation to how Travelling communities’ culture, traditions and values were reflected.
All teachers suggested adopting a personal and individualised approach. School staff should identify specific needs and work together with children and parents to address them. Strategies which have been useful in supporting transitions include:
- creating flexible timetables and sites for learning
- arranging transport
- staff visiting Gypsy/Traveller sites, or arranging to meet in neutral locations, well in advance of transitions
- ensuring families are provided with all the necessary information in formats they understand, such as start dates, expectations on pupils, and an overview of curriculum subjects
- providing parents with assistance with form filling
- offering a single point of contact who will support links between that family and the school, such as a Principle Teacher or the TENET teacher, who may be a part of the local authority ASL team.
Specific training on Gypsy/Traveller culture and heritage, CPD relating to managing interrupted and distance learning, and good practice examples were viewed as important in order to support staff and schools. Many staff members in school were known to want to foster a sympathetic understanding of Traveller culture but lacked both information and confidence. Developing partnerships with other agencies was thought to be necessary. These included: STEP, TENET, community link workers, bilingual and Traveller support services, and health services. These partnerships enabled targeted support, knowledge exchange and implementation of educational outreach provisions.
The case involved a 7-year-old child from a Scottish Gypsy/Traveller family who had never been to school. The family were keen for their child to start at a local primary. Initially, the school suggested the child join via the normal enrolment system with full attendance from the outset. However, in discussion it became clear that the family was nervous and it was important that the child did not have to begin school full-time as there was no experience of previous schooling in their extended family. Several members of the family also had consistent health issues which presented the parents with practical challenges in getting the child to school continuously.
Working closely in partnership with the Gypsy/Traveller teacher and family, the school realised they had to adopt a more individualised approach to support this child’s transition to formal schooling. The school was flexible and offered a part-time placement in the first instance. Before enrolment the school also offered several introductory visits. The visits were important as they enabled the child and the parents to grow accustomed to the setting, the procedures for entering, leaving and moving around the school. They were reassured of the child’s happiness and safety during playtime and lunch breaks. They also gained insight into the curriculum and how many aspects were relevant to Traveller lives.
The Gypsy/Traveller teacher (a member of TENET) engaged in one-to-one conversations with the child throughout the process to ensure the child was coping with the transition between the worlds of home and school. Following enrolment she made regular visits to the school with the family and was seen as a trusted figure whom the family could approach with any issues.
Through the individualised, flexible and sensitive approach, the family was supported, and the pupil continues to attend school.