Integration key to effective education for Roma students

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A lack of specialist advice and difficulties in accessing funding quickly enough are hindering the progress of Gypsy or Roma pupils, inspectors have warned.

A lack of specialist advice and difficulties in accessing funding quickly enough are hindering the progress of Gypsy or Roma pupils, inspectors have warned.

The number of Gypsy/Roma pupils, whose families have often migrated from Eastern Europe, in England’s schools is on the rise after a 13.7 per cent increase last year – from 16,735 in January 2013 to 19,030 in January 2014.

However, in 2013, just 13.8 per cent of Gypsy/Roma pupils got five or more GCSE grades at A* to C including English and mathematics, compared to the national average of 60.6 per cent.

Ofsted has carried out a study of 11 schools and three local authorities in a bid to identify the barriers to education for these pupils and highlight examples of good practice.

Overall, inspectors found a “strong commitment” to improving the engagement and achievement for Roma students, but reported that because pupils often have little experience of formal education, there can be problems in getting them to adhere to school routines and behaviour expectations.

However, when schools focused on integrating pupils effectively and providing an “uninterrupted education”, pupils made good progress, albeit from a very low starting point.

Inspectors also warn that schools are experiencing problems in accessing funding for Roma pupils, such as the Pupil Premium, quickly enough. This was particularly the case when a large number of pupils joined or left during the school year.

The report recommends that the Department for Education should consider how the allocation of funding can “more accurately reflect the changes in the number of eligible pupils on roll throughout the school year”.

Adding to the problem, inspectors said, is a fear among some Roma parents of discrimination, leading them to not state their children’s ethnicity. 

Local authorities are also finding it hard to keep track of pupils from these highly mobile families – especially at secondary level where high drop-out rates are “not uncommon”.

Furthermore, despite the good practice that exists, some schools are struggling to find the resources they need to fully meet Roma pupils’ needs.

This includes, in some cases, insufficient specialist advice and support being available for schools or a shortage of qualified teachers with the expertise to support Roma pupils in learning English as an additional language (EAL).

For schools, the report recommends a focus on recruiting qualified teachers for teaching EAL and building the links between primary and secondary schools in order to ensure Roma students remain engaged during transition.

Sean Harford, Ofsted national director for schools, said: “This report provides a more accurate assessment of the barriers to educational engagement and attainment that Roma pupils experience, as well as the specific challenges faced by particular schools and local authorities in supporting pupils.

“Through this report, we also identify the strategies that are being employed successfully by local authorities and schools to support Roma pupils.”

Commenting on the report, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “The report makes some sensible points, notably the recommendations for the department to be more responsive to in-year changes to the number of pupils on the school roll. Schools need to be able to get money more quickly when Roma children join them part way through the school year.

“We know that rapid intervention and sustained support are vital to improving the outcomes of all children no matter their background. This is particularly true for the youngest children.”

The report, entitled Overcoming Barriers: Ensuring that Roma children are fully engaged and achieving in education, is available to download at http://bit.ly/1rX2Uqv

CAPTION: Support? The romantic view of Romani Gypsy Vardos, but many Roma families migrating from Eastern Europe face substantial barriers to education


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