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SEED Sponsored Research - Learning at a Distance Supported by ICT for Gypsies and Travellers: Young Peoples' Views



This research has explicitly focused on two of the sponsored research programmes themes: 'researching with children' and 'working with young people'. Its thematically linked focus will provide 'added value' to the Scottish Executive Education Department's knowledge base about the learning needs of Gypsy/Traveller and Showground Traveller pupils within the present construct of school-based education and the content of the school curriculum (SEED 2003). It is hoped that the dialogue achieved with the children and young people from these communities about the realities of their everyday lives is reflected in this report. Their views and aspirations should inform local authorities' developments in ICT supported learning, thus helping to:

· ensure the provision is user friendly

· enhance equality of educational opportunity,

· provide access to additional support, should it be needed.

Ultimately, the research hopes to contribute towards development of a cost effective, culturally sensitive ICT supported learning experience for Gypsy and Traveller pupils who travel, or who are educated in out of school settings.

'Gypsy' identity - bullying and discriminatory treatment

A large majority of professionals, officials and the general public in Scotland have only a blurred understanding of Gypsies' and Travellers' different cultures and lifestyles, with most appearing to have a literal understanding of the idea and role of 'travelling' in their lives. Such a lack of understanding contributes to Gypsy and Traveller children and young people's experience of racist treatment by some non-Traveller people, when accessing school-based learning (Lloyd, Stead et al. 1999b; Lloyd and Stead 2001). It also highlights the continuing relevance of the Equal Opportunities Committee's 37 recommendations.

Gypsy/Traveller pupils continue to experience bullying and discriminatory treatment associated with being identified as a 'Gypsy', an identity that is frequently applied, although to a lesser degree, to Showground Traveller pupils when at school. This finding highlights a key reason for Gypsy/Traveller pupils' experience of interrupted learning, particularly secondary-aged pupils, and the many examples of pupils 'missing' from education (Executive 2005).

Gypsy/Traveller and Showground Traveller pupils in this research had all experienced periods of travelling, for a range of occupational, family and cultural reasons. Travelling, which emerges as a significant, albeit differently patterned feature of their life styles, also contributes towards an interrupted learning experience among children and young people from these socially and culturally distinctive communities. Partly for these reasons, some of the children and young people from these communities do not achieve their academic potential (HMIe 2006).

Gypsy/Traveller and Showground Traveller pupils being educated away from their 'base' school, or in the case of Gypsy/Traveller pupils their 'real' school, require some additional help with their learning, which brings their educational needs within the broader framework for providing for children and young people as set out in the The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, and its Code of Practice. ( www.ltscotland.org.uk/inclusiveeducation/additionalsupportforlearning/codeofpractice.asp).

ICT supported learning

Research has shown that educators' uses of ICT with reliable connectivity have allowed for a more flexible (in overcoming the limitations of conventional age and stage approaches), interactive and collaborative (in overcoming the de-motivating effects on learners of significant gaps in time between submitting work and receiving feedback) learning experience for pupils, who, for a range of reasons, are highly unlikely to benefit from school-based learning, and particularly those whose preferred 'learning time' does not have synchronicity with 'school time'. Certainly, these features have helped motivate and re-motivate learners to engage with formal learning and its potential for life long learning (Passey, Rogers et al. 2004).

Showground Traveller and Gypsy/Traveller pupils could see the benefit of ICT supported learning for receiving and delivering completed assignments to 'base' school staff. In addition to the added bonus of receiving prompt feedback, pupils also welcomed the idea of keeping in better contact with staff and friends at school. New forms of sociability achieved via the Internet were already in evidence among some of the pupils in this research.

The children and young people expressed concerns that ICT supported learning arrangements would include a regular, positive learning and teaching relationship with a 'base' school teacher. Importantly, they did not have the conceptual language for referring to 'pupil learning plans' or 'individual learning plans' associated with 'assessment is for learning' approaches to meeting individual learning needs (www.ltscotland.org.uk/assess/). However, pupils clearly identified their needs for a progressive, coherent and effective learning experience, which implicitly pointed to a planned learning approach, for example, an individual learning plan as advocated by the SchoolsOutGlasgow.net project (Jordan and Padfield 2004).

Children and young people expressed their preferences for a 'blended learning' ICT experience, one based on his or her particular learning needs. This approach should comprise paper-based learning materials and face-to-face support provided by a 'base' school, and, computer-based learning materials, supported by secure and safety proofed access to the Internet. Further encouragement and support should be enabled through email and telephone communications with a 'base' school teacher and ICT technical support staff. Certainly, the E-LAMP and 'Laptops for Travellers' projects have shown the benefits of such communications, for pupils' self-confidence as learners and in maintaining their sense of belonging to their 'base' school.

Such additions would effectively augment the significant 'good practice' provided by designated staff, currently available in some, but not all Scottish local authorities (Padfield 2005). The role and remit of designated teaching and support staff is to support Gypsy and Traveller families and schools in accessing education their children and young people.

Existing support for Gypsy/Traveller and Showground Traveller pupils

Showground and Gypsy/Traveller pupils' discussions revealed the limits of existing support and their awareness of the negative impact of travelling on their education, particularly their secondary education.

Showground Traveller pupils' educational progress appeared to rely heavily on their parents' interest in ensuring that paper based materials were prepared in readiness for the travelling season, and by ensuring that marking and feedback was achieved by dropping off work done on the road into their 'base' schools when returning to their winter base for short periods during the travelling season.

Gypsy/Traveller children and young people described learning with their parents and other family members, but recognised that what their parents could teach them did not lead to qualifications. In this regard they thought that schools should organise distance learning, which contrary to popular belief is not readily available in Scottish schools (Padfield 2005). While Gypsy/Traveller pupils had little expectation that local authorities would be agreeable to providing ICT supported learning, with national support, for example, by the Scottish Schools Digital Network, such provision would extend schools' existing inclusive approaches as outlined in the national Guidance (SEED 2003), and really begin to address the inclusion and equality issues Gypsy/Traveller and Showground Traveller pupils continue to experience (HMIe 2005).

Showground and Gypsy/Traveller pupils frequently made references to 'learning with' their family members. They described many examples of sharing learning skills (including ICT skills) and information with brothers, sisters, cousins, and, not least their fathers and uncles. The policy and professional significance of this latter point is that ICT supported learning for children and young people from these communities could impact more widely in educative terms. Such parental involvement, particularly of fathers, which is recognised to benefit children's formal learning achievements (Russell and Granville 2005), delivery of ICT supported learning opportunities for children could lead to a greater engagement in formal learning by their adult family members. The potential for 'added value' of fathers' and uncles' engagement in the development of ICT supported educational opportunities, would be of particular long term benefit, to their communities by ensuring their cultural appropriateness, and to society.

'awareness raising' for the future

The report has not drawn upon the many examples of informal learning opportunities afforded by other agencies, for example, Save the Children. Frequently, these agencies and local authorities work through media and drama opportunities that use ICT based technologies. For example, a group of Gypsy/Traveller children recently made a DVD of their lives, called, 'We Are the Gypsy Kids', their presentation of themselves and their hopes for their future is highly positive. An artist Iain Piercey and musician Ricky Traynor, both from Project Ability, led the project with support from Universal Connections and the recently closed Gypsy Traveller Community Development Project. Similarly, Showground Traveller pupils have made video recordings of their day-to-day lives on the Showground, for example Dex Stirling's videos were transmitted on BBC's 'Different Worlds' series late in 2005.

Showground Travellers talked with enthusiasm about the newly emerging city centre fairgrounds, as well as the remaining traditional fairs, while many Gypsy/Traveller families were reported to attend other fairs and religious conventions. The research considered that promotional visits by educationalists to such events could be used to inform families about the curriculum and how it is taught in schools. Using examples of paper-based basic literacy and numeracy materials, and opportunities to engage with ICT supported examples of subjects taught in secondary schools, such events could engage Gypsy and Traveller families' interest in and knowledge of formal education.