Picture by Vanessa Toulmin
Have you ever thought about the mismatch between mobile communities and the pattern of locally-based schools which we all take for granted? The largest traditional communities are Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Scottish Travellers and 'Showmen' (the traditional name used by the Fairground community). Their problems started back in 1880 with the advent of compulsory school attendance (two years earlier in Scotland).
Current legislation now allows for flexibility in terms of school attendance for children whose families are nomadic, but ICT is beginning to be used to build bridges and to challenge the notion that their schooling equates to physical attendance at school.
Since 2004 there have been a series of E-Learning and Mobility Projects (E-LAMP) which have sought to link pupils back to their 'base-schools', which are generally situated where the family overwinters. The projects have supplied them with laptops and datacards. The first project was research-orientated and sponsored by the Nuffield Foundation, but the DfES has also put resources into three subsequent projects so that over 200 children are now involved in a series of pilot activities. There are also parallel developments beginning in Scotland.
This approach has worked well with primary age children but, as you might expect, has been more problematic with secondary schools. There are problems for the secondary phase both because children have to link to a series of specialist subject teachers and because the children and families are much more cautious about committing to secondary education.
This is partly because of bad experiences of bullying, prejudice and racism and partly because Traveller children are regarded in their communities as young adults by the age of 13/14. They then link into a form of family apprentice model for their vocational education. [Even where parents encourage children to attend school exclusions at this stage are also all too common.] This has lead to another E-LAMP project aimed at 'Key Stage 4' youngsters who are permanently disengaged from school. This project uses an on-line distance-learning platform and the children are given tutorial support by specialist Traveller Education staff.
Great to see technology actually supporting a traditional lifestyle!
Ken Marks works for the University of Sheffield's School of Education. For more information see this fuller report on progress, last updated November 2006 [65 kB DOC], or contact k.marks [AT] sheffield.ac.uk.