Would your school be the Gypsy school?
Truancy among Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children has long been an issue for education authorities around the world. While there have been increases in school attendance by GRT children since the 1960s, truancy remains an important issue. And it’s not just because of their distinctive culture and way of life. One of the major obstacles to school attendance cited by GRTs is their concerns about discrimination, bullying and safety.
I recently read a research article about an English school in an unnamed city that had become known as the “Gypsy school” because it had earned the trust of GRT families who had settled in the area. GRT families sent their children to this school because the school had succeeded in fostering a strong and safe community and building relationships with GRT parents and children.
Teachers exhibited a knowledge of children’s personal backgrounds and culture and children liked being with the other GRT children in the school. They felt as though school officials were watching their back.
Threats of bullying, an argument with a teacher or an unexpected domestic crisis were understood as reasons to stop attending school, the researcher writes. The school operated a literal open door policy to promptly manage these situations. GRT parents could arrive unannounced at the school and be seen in the head office. Parents owned up to their responsibilities to go immediately to the school and resolve problems face to face.
A Gypsy has been described as an “exaggerated stranger.” How many of the students in your school are “exaggerated strangers” because of ethnicity, religious beliefs or even temperament and personality? How many see your school as the school that welcomes and protects them–the Gypsy school?