So it’s been a while since I last updated you – it’s been a very busy time! On 19th October, our Travelling Ahead National Gypsy & Traveller Youth Forum met for the third time. The Forum was brilliant, despite the squeeze on jobs and finances, 8 of our 13 local forums were able to attend and seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. The day focused on the Forum’s first major project, producing a film looking at negative media portrayal of Gypsies and Travellers. Over the summer we interviewed young people from across South Wales on this issue and the draft film which we showed the National Forum went down well. Having discussed a possible title, a few additions and some sound editing, the young people were ready to talk about launching it!
The National Forum Film launch
The film will be launched in a public area. This was decided because the whole idea of producing the film was to change the attitudes of the general public. In launching it publicly, we hope that passers-by will watch the new film (and some others from the Travelling Ahead project). We hope to be able to share the date and location of the screening next week, though I can say that it will be before Christmas. Young people at the National Forum said that they would really like the opportunity to talk to journalists about their film and some of the problems they face with negative media coverage. After the event we will offer journalists an opportunity to keep in touch with the project and give young people the opportunity to be media spokespeople on issues in future. We will also invite interested journalists to a training session in the new year.
One of the main reasons for the young people deciding to run this media project was because of bullying that they have faced as a result of high-profile programmes like Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. Some of the young people we work with told us that the programme had increased, or even initiated, bullying – as seems to have happened across the UK. At the National Forum, one young person talked to us about particular problems they had had in their school in Blaenau Gwent. The problem stemmed from the school’s treatment of the slurs ‘pikey’ or ‘gyppo’. This young person is obviously outraged and wound up by other pupils using these insults, yet teachers are not treating them as racist terms on the same basis as other words used against other racial groups. This can often lead to retaliation from Gypsies and Travellers and expulsions. These groups have the highest rate of school exclusions of any groups in society, yet when the Children’s Commissioner for England investigated these exclusions they found that 100% of Gypsy and Traveller expulsions were overturned at appeal. We will be supporting this young person and the local Traveller Education staff to ensure that school staff are made fully aware of their responsibilities and provide equality for Gypsies and Travellers.
Full time vs Part time education – a false comparison
Another issue that was brought up at the National Forum was that of one local authority’s attempts to provide full time education for young Gypsies and Travellers in their area. Currently, a proportion of young people in that area attend a classroom outside of mainstream education for almost 20 hours per week. Save the Children fully supports the child’s right to an education and we are against the principle of segregated education. However, this classroom is a pragmatic solution to ensure that young people are able to receive some level of curriculum education in a culturally appropriate manner. The Council has decided to strictly maintain that these children need to enter full time mainstream education, rather than this part time provision. On the face of it, this seems sensible. However, in reality there are some major issues involved with this proposal. Firstly, the Council has entirely neglected to inform the parents and pupils of this proposal. Secondly, the choice is not between part time or full time provision. Families have chosen to send their children to school part time because they believe that the children also experience a far more relevant and culturally appropriate education at home or at work. The home learning is considered far more valuable than secondary education. Furthermore, the relationships that parents have built with specialist teachers are a major reason why these children attend the classroom. In mainstream education, these relationships may not exist. Therefore, it is far more likely that the choice will become full time education or no school education (after primary school). The young people approached us at the National Forum to ask for help. They want a full explanation about what is happening from the Council and they would like the Council to understand the impact that it will have on them. We will be writing a letter to the Council shortly. We believe that children must be consulted on decisions that affect them. We also believe in the child’s right to an education and will offer to work with the Council to understand the value of a classroom system as a temporary gateway for pupils into the mainstream education system. The Council also needs to understand and value the home learning environment and the Flexi-schooling guidelines set out by the Welsh Government.
There will be plenty of fallout from these issues and from various other aspects of the Travelling Ahead project over the coming months but the important thing is that young people are now approaching us through their National Forum and asking us to help them challenge inequality and racism. This can only be a healthy progression.