Recently I attended a conference to learn more about literacy/SEND and EAL. The EMTAS (Ethnic Minority Traveller Achievement Service) secondary conference run by Hampshire LA is a service going from strength to strength. It’s bitter sweet for me coming from Dorset where I witnessed the EMTAS service close down, redundancies paid out and experience and expertise disappear into cardboard boxes. I digress…
One of the stand out moments for me was listening to a talk on the ethnic minorities of Gypsy Roma and Irish traveller heritage. Cultural differences were explained alongside tips on how schools working with these communities needed to be aware of traditions and ways of life so as not to alienate families in schools.
Something which struck me was when the specialist teacher said, ‘Get this wrong and they will just leave. All the family need to do is elect to home educate and after this one phone call to the LA, that’s it, we’ve lost these children to school for good’.
The reason why this resonated was that quite rightly, they were championing this ethnic minority, asking us to understand and make adjustments and be culturally appropriate. Traveller children are far more likely to drop out of school, be excluded and less likely to go to university. It’s a delicate relationship and one which needs to be handled carefully if schools want to keep these children in school and flourishing.
It doesn’t mean patronising them, lowering standards or making unfair allowances but it does require collaboration and most importantly a will to keep these children and their families as part of the school community. It would be very easy to lose trust and the data will tell you that this happens more than it should.
I have worked with traveller families quite regularly and in the Further Education college I worked in, a local traveller charity called Kushti Bok presented a Legend Pole to the college in recognition of providing education and training to the gypsy and traveller community. A beautiful wooden carved pole, evidence of how relationships can be built and mutual trust and respect weaved into education and community.
But even with what I thought was quite good knowledge of the traveller community, I had never heard of mochadi and it’s a very useful piece of information for family engagement and collaboration. Mochadi means unclean and links to many areas of life such as separate bowls for washing up dishes and washing a body. Some will not drink from a used mug due to Mochadi laws. Using paper cups and wrapped biscuits were ways round inviting parents in for coffee mornings EMTAS told us.
Returning to the commitment of a school to keep these students in education rather than giving messages that they don’t belong is I believe problematic for communities with different cultural norms. As the Legend Pole suggests, it’s not impossible and investment and mutual respect pays off. In my experience, once trust has been built it smooths a path where real relationships can begin which are mutually beneficial.
If however, education is done to a community and not with and if a school writes this:
‘We have high standards in our school and you will need to think very carefully before coming here’.
Then it gives an immediate signal to families who may already cautious of authority that it is not a partnership, that it it a one way relationship ‘our way or the high way’. When these families disconnect and elect to home educate, how disappointed is the school? Do they show the gritty determinism shown by Hampshire’s EMTAS? Or is it someone else’s problem?
If a school blames families for giving their children ‘McDonald’ haircuts and eating coco pops for breakfast; both judgements I’ve heard, this alienates certain families in the community even further.
Is there even a will for some schools fiercely driving through changes to increase their progress 8 scores to try? Competing against their neighbouring schools by loudly celebrating their successes, saying they’re the best in the region rather than collaborating with other schools is an isolationist approach and means success is measured on results rather than inclusivity. Will these schools listen and act on the advice of experts such as EMTAS? Or will they ignore it because they know better and are concerned for the majority rather than the minority? Do they even care if these children elect to be home educated once relationships and trust have broken down? Is the overriding feeling one of relief because they won’t affect their scores?
Parent partnership is exactly that and if we begin to judge and blame families based on our own prejudices rather than seeking to understand cultures and difference, then we cannot truly begin to work with all in our community. These are the values I hold dearly for comprehensive schools, to provide an education for all children and the belief that we are working to serve its community: everyone in the community.
The stunning Legend Pole, carved with love, knowledge and skill, steeped in heritage is for me a symbol of community cohesion and symbolises as much success as progress 8 scores.
Hampshire EMTAS service