By Claire Kent – Head Teacher of Mount C of E Primary School, Newark, Nottinghamshire.
I am fortunate enough to have worked at our school for 20 years, with the last three serving in my current role as Head Teacher. Mount C of E Primary is a special place to be and touches the hearts of all who visit. We serve a diverse community which is unusual for a Market Town Centre Primary. 36% of our pupils are from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community, mainly English Traveller families. 30% of our pupils are classed as having English as an Additional Language (EAL), and are mainly from Eastern Europe and the remainder of our pupils are from a mixed catchment from across the town.
For decades, our school has welcomed children from GRT communities and it remains a school of choice for many Traveller families. So, why do so many Traveller families choose our school above other schools available across town?
Being a Church of England school develops an ethos of respect and appreciation, giving us increased opportunities to celebrate our wonderful diverse community. All of our children are catered for as individuals and their needs are provided for, with a greater emphasis on emotional well-being. We are committed to breaking down barriers and welcoming all children and families, regardless of race, culture or background. This ethos is embedded within our curriculum and part of our daily practice. Within our lessons, references are made to the lives of all communities. On a basic level an example of this would be during the homes topic in Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), children are given opportunities to explore a range of homes such as boats, houses, trailers, flats, chalets and bungalows. Another example would be exploring how different communities celebrate the Christian festivals.
We ensure that our staff are aware of the beliefs and ways of the various cultures within our school. This means that we speak regularly with our families and work hard to establish strong positive and trusting relationships. This is essential if we are to work in partnership to ensure every child reaches their potential. The TARGET model (Traveller and Roma Gypsy Education Tool (Wilkin et al., 2009)) is a useful reflection tool when considering how to build such relationships;
One afternoon a week, the same TA takes groups of Traveller and non-Traveller children down onto the site. Families agree to host their own child and some of their classmates within their trailer or chalet. This is extremely popular with all concerned and supports our work on tackling prejudices and misconceptions about the GRT community. The majority of our Traveller families live on a site within town. This site is visited by myself and a Teaching Assistant (TA) each week to ensure that parents feel that we are approachable. A TA visits once a week to carry out stay and play sessions in trailers and chalets of families with pre-school children. This TA is also within our EYFS unit so that she is a familiar face when the youngsters first start school. During these afternoons, she also supports parents to complete forms or read letters.
On our Governing Body we have a Traveller Dad. He is a valued member of the Board and speaks positively about the provision within school. He has spoken to OFSTED during inspections and advises other Governors on the cultural features of his community.
I regularly visit families in their homes to support attendance. I often collect children or drop children back home after school. This is particularly the case if one of the family members is ill and the mother is unable to bring the other children as the father is working. Our families value education and welcome support to ensure their children access the provision available.
There have been many policies and guidelines published within the subject of improving learning outcomes for GRT pupils;
I am extremely proud that we were included within the most recent publication, written by The Traveller Movement. As one of only four schools included for demonstrating good practice, why is it that our families have so much trust within our school?
Recently, I spoke with a couple of mothers as they dropped off their children on the playground. They told me that one of the reasons our school is so popular within the Travelling community is because we treat each child as an individual, have respect for their culture and treat all families with equal care and compassion.
Each morning and each afternoon, I am on the playground to informally chat with families, addressing any issues or worries face-to-face. This open door philosophy is mirrored throughout every classroom and appointments are very seldom needed because our parents are encouraged to approach staff at the beginning or end of the day.
Building links with our communities is a priority within our school. We regularly host events where parents are welcomed into school in a non-threatening, non-academic manner. These events include;
At Mount C of E Primary School, we recognise that parents’ own experiences of schooling and/or possible restricted literacy skills can act as a barrier or feed anxiety. With this in mind, school events are text out to parents in addition to being included in the newsletters. Staff also discretely speak with parents so that they are aware and reminded of events to avoid missing out. To reduce anxiety and build strong relationships, parents are encouraged to phone school to receive updates as to how their children are doing. Texts and phone calls home celebrate achievements both academic and pastoral. Parents are supported with the admissions process into school and transfer to Secondary, should they decide to do so.
We continue to work in partnership with our fabulous community and see diversity as a celebration at the heart of our everyday ethos. I would ask any practitioner to look back at the TARGET model and consider the quality of their provision in terms of embedding the following within their daily practice;
Our absolute dream would be that schools across the country adopt our inclusive approach to ensure that all families and pupils feel valued and welcomed within their local school. None of this is rocket science…just meet the individual needs of each child and be respectful of other cultures and beliefs.