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Review of Children Missing from Education (Scotland) Service: September 2006-April 2007


Appendix 12 Children Missing from Education (Scotland) - Keeping in Touch - Gypsy and Traveller Children

Good Practice when there are concerns for Gypsy and Traveller children's safety and wellbeing if they lose contact with schools

"The diversity in pupils' lifestyles today presents a challenge to education providers in their push to support inclusion for all".

(Inclusive Educational Approaches for Gypsies and Travellers - Guidance for Local Authorities and Schools, Scottish Executive, 2003)

1. Introduction

1.1 It is important to be aware of the diversity of lifestyles in Scotland which an inclusive education system must acknowledge and embrace. Gypsies and Travellers have a cultural way of life which is diverse and also different from those of the majority of pupils and therefore flexibility and solution-focused approaches are essential in working effectively with them in the best interests of Gypsy and Traveller children. .To ensure that they and their families do not become disengaged or alienated from the education system a reflective and sensitive approach is crucial.

1.2 CME (Scotland) tracks and traces pupils to ensure children who have disappeared from view are safe and well. It is then for local services to consider the most appropriate approaches to working with families to continue to ensure their wellbeing, and appropriate access to education.1.3 Gypsy and Travellers families frequently move around the country for occupational, cultural and family reasons. It is therefore to be expected that children will disappear from view of a school for periods of time . There are resources on http://www.scottishtravellered.net which provide advice for teachers and local authorities on good practice in keeping in touch with families when this happens.

1.4 In addition, all parents, including Gypsy and Traveller parents, have the option to provide for their children's education in ways other than sending them to school. It is for education authorities to consider that the education provided is suitable for the child (where a child has first been registered at a school before home-education is considered).

1.5 CME (Scotland) will therefore only become involved in tracing Gypsy/Traveller children when there is a concern about their safety and wellbeing.

2. Definition

Gypsy/Traveller families - avoiding stereotypes

2.1 In Scotland, the terms Gypsy and Traveller broadly refer to three distinctive groups of Travellers. These are:

  • Gypsy/Travellers the slash between these two terms reflects the Scottish Executive's inclusive approaches towards people self-identifying as a Gypsy/Traveller, a Scottish Traveller, as an English Traveller, as Roma or as an Irish Traveller. People from these groups have distinctive histories and cultures and many are committed to living and maintaining their particular ways of life. (see below regarding ethnic minority status)
  • Occupational Travellers include show/fairground and circus Travellers who regard themselves as business communities and who travel for work reasons. Occupational Traveller communities do not regard themselves as belonging to a minority ethnic group.

2.2 Only Roma, English Travellers and Irish Travellers have statutory protection, under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. However, the Scottish Executive acknowledges that all Gypsy/Travellers require the same level of protection from discrimination as all of Scotland's minority ethnic groups and have advised that Gypsy/Travellers should, therefore, be treated as having minority ethnic status, and all that implies under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

2.3 Gypsies and Travellers are recognised by the European Parliament as being the group most socially excluded from school education and with the highest levels of non-literacy. Male Gypsies and Travellers perform well below educational levels expected even when deprivation and other factors are taken into account

2.4 Not all Gypsies and Travellers travel regularly as part of their lifestyle. Some live settled lives in houses, choosing to live in them all year round or to travel part of the time. Gypsies and Travellers who are tenants on designated sites often stay for increasing periods. However, some Gypsy and Travellers do experience difficulties in finding sites and, when staying on non-designated sites, may be evicted without warning, resulting in disruption to all other aspects of their lives, including schooling.

3. The challenge of keeping in touch

3.1 It is difficult to gather accurate data about the number of Gypsy and Traveller families within Scotland. The September 2004 census ethnicity data revealed that there were 581 Gypsy and Traveller children in publicly funded Scottish schools. However, this does not account for those travelling and not on a school roll at the time of the census. Nor does it account for those pupils who did not record themselves as Gypsies and Travellers.

3.2 There are sometimes Gypsy/Traveller sensitivities around the sharing of information about family background with schools. Not all Gypsies Travellers wish to divulge their identity at school, with the result that accounts of educational achievements among Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland must be treated with caution.

3.3 There are often high levels of absenteeism or irregular attendance at school among Gypsy and Traveller children. The reasons for this are complex and may include bullying; the challenges for pupils of disrupted education and poor literacy; family priorities may focus on work for older children or families may have traditional values and distrust the influence schools and peers may have on children. Building positive relationships with Gypsy and Traveller children and their parents requires persistence and flexibility, but where a designated member of staff (e.g. Gypsy and Traveller support for learning teacher, pastoral care or home-school link worker) consistently offers communication and support this can help to build trust.

3.4 Experience of moving to new schools and constantly having to provide information or have children assessed again and again, may discourage Gypsy/Traveller families from enrolling in school when they move to a new area. Where schools share information effectively and quickly, this can be avoided, and result in children settling quickly and benefiting from appropriate and consistent support.

3.5 Schools that take a personal approach to communication with Gypsy/Traveller families also help to overcome the possibility that older generations have poor literacy, prefering an oral tradition. Letters and school information can therefore be conveyed in discussion by phone or through visits. It is helpful if attention is paid to positive communication in this way, rather than only resorting to these measures when there is a problem.

3.6 Older children whose families travel experience difficulties in keeping up portfolio work for standard grades and in timetabling of exams. However, flexible approaches enable children to stay in touch with schools ICT supported learning approaches are being developed. Gypsy/Traveller children may benefit from flexible learning approaches and vocational learning may also be a positive choice.

4. Concerns for Gypsy/Traveller Children's Safety and Wellbeing

4.1 Schools that get to know children and their parents using the approaches described above are in a much stronger position to assess concerns for a child's safety and wellbeing.

4.2 School staff, home-school link staff and outreach teaching staff should be familiar with their authority's child protection procedures (see also Safe and Well handbook for child protection in education).

4.3 While a child is attending school, any concerns should be recorded and responded to appropriately.

4.4 Schools should also listen to children and parents, and through positive relationships (as with any other family), build a picture of family links, travelling patterns and the level of stability of current living arrangements (e.g. settled, on a designated site or on an unofficial site). This picture should be recorded and may be helpful when keeping in touch or if tracing children becomes necessary.

4.5 If a child has not come to school, and their absence is unexpected, the initial response should be to contact the parent, as with any other child. However, if the family have moved on unexpectedly, a risk assessment should be carried out, in collaboration with the Traveller teacher where possible, to consider the level of concern. If there have been previous concerns for a child's safety and wellbeing, this must be a factor in the risk assessment (see section: Level of Concern).

4.6 If a family's pattern of travelling leads a school to expect them to return after a period of travelling, and the child does not arrive, the same risk assessment process should be considered in consultation with the Traveller teacher and/or local site manager.

4.7 Where there is a low level of concern, schools and education authorities should still seek to locate families so that information between schools and services can be shared, to support the family (see box: Contacts and Networks)

4.8 Where there is a higher level of concern, when local efforts to trace children have been unsuccessful, the authority designated manager for Children Missing from Education should consider referral to CME Scotland for national co-ordination.

5. Risk Assessment

5.1 Once a pupil from a Gypsy and Traveller background is believed to have gone missing from education the level of concern should be assessed in discussion with other staff who know the child or family. From this a plan of further action should follow local procedures. CME (Scotland) accepts referrals for Gypsy and Traveller children when there are concerns about the child's safety and well being. As with all other children, whenever there are child protection concerns or the child is on the Child Protection Register, local child protection procedures should be followed.

5.2 When assessing the risk factors in determining whether to refer a Gypsy and Traveller child to CME (Scotland) professional judgement and relevant information sharing should occur. This may require communication between adult and children's services to determine any risk to the child of the family moving on without the support of existing services.

All staff should be made aware of local procedures for raising a concern about the safety and well being of a Gypsy and Traveller pupil. CME (Scotland) is happy to discuss cases prior to referral to offer advice and guidance.

5.3 The definition of a 'child in need' from the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 should be used. The child may have a Co-ordinated Support plan ( CSP) or a Record of Needs. Other specific concerns may include the child coming from a family where there are concerns over domestic violence, substance misuse or mental health issues. The child may be a young carer, have emotional or behaviour problems or be a looked after child. (This is not an exhaustive list). Due sensitivity must be used as usual categories are unlikely to fit with a Gypsy and Traveller child's experience.

6. Referring to CME (Scotland)

6.1 When it has been agreed at local authority level that there are other concerns usual procedures for referring to CME (Scotland) should be followed. (See guidelines in Safe and Well child protection in education handbook)

6.2 If CME (Scotland) accept the referral all usual procedures for tracking and tracing will be followed. (See guidelines in Safe and Well child protection in education handbook)

Guidance and good practice

'Safe and Well'

Children Missing Education - ensuring they are safe and well

Specific advice on developing good practice to include Gypsies and Travellers can be found in:

8 th and 9 th term Reports of the Advisory Committee on Scotland's Travelling People (Scottish Executive, 1998, 2000)

The Equal Opportunities Committee Inquiry into Gypsy Travellers and Public Sector Policies (2001)

Race Equality Advisory Forum Report (2001)

Inclusive Educational Approaches for Gypsies and Travellers within the context of Interrupted Learning. (Learning and Teaching Scotland 2003)