Comments upon "Research and Advice Commissioned by the DfES on the situation regarding the current policy provision and practice in EHE for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children, by Arthur Ivatts."
Before we go any further, I must admit my knowledge base is extremely limited. More research on this needs to be done, but I would say that it certainly needs to be done before any consultation on Home Education is undertaken. I say this because the conversations I have had with Travellers and with a Traveller Support Worker (TSW) have led me to believe that the Ivatts report is misleading in a number of very significant ways on the matter of the current situation with regard to the education of Gyspy/Roma and Traveller (GRT) children. The report does not match GRTs' perceptions of the situation and far from solving a problem of educational neglect in the UK, (other than by forcing more Travellers to emigrate), will exacerbate the difficulties of educating (GRT) children according to their age, ability and aptitude.
Highlighted below are some of the significant areas of contention which appear to warrant further research, coupled with some suggestions as to how better to solve the problem of educational neglect.
From the Executive Summary of the Ivatts Report.
"1.1. The Traveller Education Services (TESs) have reported on the seemingly marked increase year-on-year of the number of Gypsy/Roma and Traveller families opting for EHE. This has been expressed as a development causing concern given that it is suggested that EHE is being used merely as a device to avoid school attendance without legal penalty. This concern has also been related to the fact that a minority of the parents are judged to be ill-equipped to organize or deliver an education suited to their children's ages, aptitudes and abilities and any special needs they may have. "
The Traveller Support Worker (TSW) to whom I spoke explained that the main contentions above were not a good representation of the situation in her area.
The demographics in her area and in others she knows well are very different from the one drawn by Ivatts in this first paragraph. For example, she only knows of one family who expressly home educate in her area and far from failing their children, they are doing very well. Other Traveller families whose children are not in school are those whose children have been excluded from it. They were not using Home Education as an excuse to avoid school, but rather had been compelled to leave school. These children, who were not classed as being home educated, were often attending Special Pick-Up units, usually on a once-a-week basis. She reports that these units were well-received, though short-funded. So instead of this huge growth in the number of travellers claiming to home educated, what we are actually seeing is a growth in the number of children who have been excluded from and failed by the school system.
The other big and significant demographic trend in traveling communities, which Ivatts fails to mention, is that large numbers of Travellers with children have actually left the country in recent years. This has happened for at least four distinct reasons:
1. That planning permission has become ever increasingly difficult to achieve for Travellers.
2. That people from the Eastern Bloc who have come over here have taken the jobs that Travellers would traditionally have done.
3.That jobs and places to stay are easier to find in, for example, Eastern Bloc countries, so many travellers have actually emigrated there.
4. Most pertinently for our argument, that TESWs have been discouraged from working with children of school age because these services were accused of seducing children away from school. In the area of my informant, this has not resulted in any families claiming to HE when they are not in fact doing so. What it has resulted in is more emigration of Traveller families, since schools, (despite the promises of Ivatts and various other educationalists to improve the school environment) remain far from suitable places for managing an education of traveller children for a number of different reasons.
All these reasons have resulted in travellers leaving the UK. A policy to police home educators even further will doubtless only increase the pressure upon such families to emigrate. Whilst the government may feel that this effectively solves a problem, we cannot help but think that if this is a deliberate policy, it is one that should be made explicitly so, for far from being a policy of inclusion, the government is effecting a policy of excluding some it's citizens.
To summarise here, the TSW I spoke to said that there was no marked increase in the number of people claiming (falsely or otherwise) to home educate, but that the reverse was true: that of the increasingly small number of GRT children who remain in this country, more than ever before had been forced back into the schooling system under threat of fines, and because the Traveller Educational Support Services had been severely curtailed. (See following paragraph); that the children who remain outside the school system are those who have been excluded from it and that this happens because the schools, despite the promises of Ivatts and other educationalists, are not good environments for Traveller children, for a number of reasons, including the high prevalence of bullying and the fear of cultural erosion.
1.9 (page 4)
"Twenty five (25%) of responding LAs do not have a written policy on EHE. While most LAs provide families with initial and post registration advice, only 2 gave practical help in the form of educational materials."
Whilst Home Educators everywhere have never expected any help from LAs, the implication in the above paragraph seems to be that there is some significant barrier to these families (here the GRT families) who are in dire need, accessing educational support from the state. This struck the TSW I spoke too as somewhat ironic. She has very good relations with Travelling families in her area. She is a traveller herself and understands their culture and their needs. She is well qualified herself and well placed to support the education of GRT children. However, she has been expressly told not to support children of school age, because she (and other TSWs) have been seen as seducing children away from the school system. Her funding to support school age children has been removed and she is now only permitted to work with pre-school children.
It appears to us in the Home Educating community that far from thinking creatively on the matter of how genuinely best to solve the problem of meeting the educational needs of GTR children, that the policy has been simply to force these children into school on promises which almost universally have not been realised, these promises being that schools will be made a more conducive place for learning for GRT children.
1.13 It should be noted that only 56% of responsible officers within the sample LAs had attended in-service training on EHE and that only 36% had attended any training/briefing on Gypsy/Roma and Traveller communities. This research finding raises serious doubts about the quality of professional judgments being made by officers during initial and or monitoring/inspection visits to families from these backgrounds.
To which our contacts would say "I should say so" and not just from the traveling communities either. Home Educators everywhere find that LA officers are often completely unable to make anything like an informed judgment about educational provision. Firstly, they simply cannot hope to form such an opinion in a short visit. Secondly, children who opt to HE are a highly varied bunch. Children with educational anomalies are often the ones most dramatically failed by the school system and who therefore end up being home educated. An LA officer not only has to be an expert on the educational needs of a standard, white child of average ability. He will also need to be competent to make this judgment, in a short visit, on any number of different learning styles and abilities and on any number of different cultural backgrounds. Home Educators repeatedly find that LA reports which are written about them, are deeply inappropriate and insensitive to the real educational needs of their children.
Given this diversity, and given that unless the LAs propose to significantly intervene in the lives of HEors, (a process which in itself will be deeply damaging to many HE families), it is hard to see how the DfES can seriously believe that LA officers are best placed to make the call about educational provision. Rather than expensively train up people who will remain compromised by the need to respect family privacy, and to allow education to flourish without their intervention, would it not be better to properly fund workers who can really get stuck in with families who are struggling? Why widen the net to check up on all HEors most of whom would get by much better without LA intervention, and instead fund people like the TSW I spoke to who had superb relations with her clients and who could genuinely improve their educational provision?
For all these reasons, we suggest that the Recommendations, 6.10 on Page 23 where it states that
f) all children registered under EHE are assessed on a regular basis in relation to expectations of educational progress
should be reconsidered.
We also would like to make the more general point here that all of the requirements to share information is having a negative impact upon the relationship of workers such as TSWs with their clients. Once clients realise how far afield their personal details are being reported, they stop sharing usually THE most significant information, such as a drug addition, since they realise that they may be severely compromised by providing information such as this. This enforced secrecy obviously impairs their relationship between support/ health workers and their clients, an means that that is much more difficult for the former to offer appropriate services. Some TSWs actually choose to put their own jobs on the line by promising not to report such data and we can understand this. Far better, it seems to us, to have key workers in sensitive positions, maintaining an ethic of confidentiality and therefore being able to offer appropriate help, than to have a mass of informed professionals, all with different agendas, who are unlikely to be able to offer the most appropriate help.
By way of a conclusion, we think it necessary to realise that schools are still, despite the best efforts of many of them, failing to provide an education that is suitable to the age, ability and aptitudes of GRT children and are not necessarily the best answer to the problem of educational neglect. Schools fail GRT children because they find they are bullied there, that they develop methods of self-defence, such as physical violence, which then gets GRT children labelled aggressive and uncontrollable. These children are then excluded and with funding removed from TSWs and with limited funding given to Special Pick Up units, their educational needs may be further neglected, though the TSW mentioned that where a family does fail their children, it is often the case that the rest of the Traveller community will help out. In addition, school fails GRT who often have special educational needs and we must realise that the even author of the movement to get children with SENs in to schools has recently changed her mind about this policy, c.f Baroness Mary Warnock's recent recantation of her proposal to enforce a policy of "inclusion".
It behoves us, rather than to insist on heavy regulation of GRT HEors, which risks forcing them back into schools under threat of fines, where the children often become alienated, do not achieve a satisfactory education and which results in other negative outcomes, to think of more constructive and creative ways to solve the problem of educational neglect.
For Further criticisms of the Ivatts report, see Gill.