Traveller Education Strategy Submission
Dermot Stokes, National Co-ordinator YOUTHREACH, Department of Education and Science
Part 1: background
As part of the consultation preceding this submission, VECs and YOUTHREACH centres were contacted. It was suggested to them that they reply to the National Co-ordinator or submit directly to the Committee. A number have taken the latter option. It is also understood that colleagues working in the network of Senior Traveller Training Centres have responded to the invitation. The observations in this submission are intended to complement other views from Further Education and Youth practitioners.
The submission derives from the experience of YOUTHREACH. This is a programme, and not an organisation, so views expressed reflect those of practitioners in Centres for Education/Training delivering the programme. Views of participants have been canvassed in the development of the YOUTHREACH/Senior Traveller Training Centre Quality Framework Initiative and where this document refers to the implementation of that initiative, the inclusion of learners in the planning and management process is to be assumed.
Travellers and education
While there is much evidence that in Ireland the outcomes of one’s education defines one’s place in society, it is also the case that one’s place in society defines the outcomes of one’s education. The prevalence of educational disadvantage among Travellers mirrors the situation of Travellers in Irish society and reflects high levels of poverty. While young Travellers are at risk from the same factors as the settled community, their situation is compounded by other factors. These include nomadism, prejudice, the ‘draw’ of the Traveller economy and the lack of inter-cultural education. A large majority of adult Travellers has never attended a post-primary school and many parents find it difficult to support their children in school (for example with homework).
However, it is also important to acknowledge that there have been very significant changes in official attitudes to Travellers since the Department of Education reported on Educational Facilities for Children of Itinerants in 1970. While integration is still favoured, there is now an understanding of the complex cultural and familial factors involved, as is clear from the report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community (1995). Although irregular school attendance remains a problem, school attendance among Travellers has improved in recent years. More young Travellers are making the transition to post-primary schooling and sustaining their participation although doubts regarding the quality of that participation must be acknowledged.
Some young Travellers attending YOUTHREACH centres live in extreme poverty and many have complex family circumstances in which adversities multiply each other’s effects. Few of their parents are employed in the formal economy. But this does not mean that they do not work. Many do, in the Traveller economy, though far from all. Some families live in relative comfort and small numbers might even be described as wealthy. However, the children of these people appear as likely to leave school early as those who are from much less wealthy families. This is not the case among the settled community.
It is also the case that many aspects of Traveller culture and society are beneficial to children’s wellbeing. For example, even amongst early school leaver Travellers a strong sense of identity and indeed pride is found in being a Traveller, whether settled or not. Many have close bonds with their family and community and frequently exhibit a deep awareness of family history and Traveller culture. This is often buttressed by perceived prejudice on the part of the settled society, including schools. While Traveller culture is often criticised as patriarchal, this too can be protective, particularly as regards early sexual activity amongst young Travellers. The strength, strictness and clarity of moral codes and religious observance among Travellers is frequently cited by those working with young Travellers. So too is their love of music, storytelling and sense of humour.
It should also be acknowledged that Traveller culture is dynamic and evolving and many working with Travellers note the increased interest in and effects of education among Traveller women.
Certain politically sensitive issues may be identified. For example, there is a lack of clarity regarding a precise definition of a Traveller – in YOUTHREACH centres there are nomadic Travellers, settled Travellers and the children of settled Travellers. There are individuals who are descended from Traveller families but no longer regard themselves as Travellers and so on. In others, one side of a family may be Traveller and the other not. In YOUTHREACH Centres, views on learning and perceptions of the future among young Travellers appear to vary according to the degree to which the young person’s family is settled. For some settled Travellers education is an access pathway to employment and integration. In such cases there is great concern for literacy and employment pathways. Other families presume their children will be part of the local Traveller economy.
According to the experience of YOUTHREACH practitioners, young Travellers seem to live for the present. They often appear restless, unable to sit for long periods. They present as self-confident in their known world and lacking in self-confidence of the unknown and of unfamiliar situations. Other difficulties include poor social skills, low self-esteem, immaturity and superstition. Frequently, they may have unrealistic ambitions regarding future employment, this lack of realism ranging from negativity to naivety. This is not unique to young Travellers.
Often their cultural focus on, and prioritising of, attendance at festivals, funerals, weddings and family anniversaries can lead to absenteeism, and consequently to difficulties in school and in future work placement. Other cultural factors include gender roles (male domination), family closeness and suspicion of outsiders. Their male-dominated culture sometimes means that Traveller males may show little respect for female staff delivering education and training programmes.
Young Travellers often have to take on adult responsibilities without the development of the emotional maturity that should accompany these responsibilities. Therefore they have assumed certain patterns of behaviour.
In general, the girls’ relationships are marriage-focused. They exhibit very clear mores (very definite values regarding their sexuality), and strict boundaries in this area. However, over the last 10 years they have become more like other teenagers in terms of values, interests, appearance and behaviour. This is especially true where Travellers have been settled in houses for a period of time. The phenomenon of unmarried Traveller mothers is virtually unheard of until recently and may require a particular type of response relevant to their specific needs and needs of their children.
In her 1996 report entitled School’s Out Early, Moriarty concludes that due to a large increase in the number of settled urban-based Travellers, as well as their reduced ability to be self-sufficient economically, literacy and numeracy have become an important issue. In order to be able to interact with the settled community in our increasingly print-dominated and bureaucratic society, most Travellers realise that literacy and numeracy are desirable skills. Yet 73.3% of those interviewed by Moriarty experienced difficulties with reading, and 66.7% experienced difficulties with writing, (as against 11.1% of non-Travellers). 66.7% of Travellers experienced difficulties in relation to numeracy. She goes on to claim that it is unacceptable that sizeable numbers of Traveller children in Tralee should participate in the educational system for an average of 8.5 years at primary level and 1.06 years at main-stream post-primary level and still have very limited literacy and numeracy skills. However, it is also reported that when the usefulness of literacy is revealed – for example, the need to be able to read in order to apply for a job as a lifeguard or for a driving licence – then there is greater commitment to learning.
As with other young people, Travellers may thrive on negative attention in the absence of any positive attention being shown. Physical abuse/violence seems to be tolerated and even excused. Their toleration of discrimination (for example, lack of access to external facilities which the schools or centres for education may be using as a resource), and the very fact that they don’t expect to be admitted to a place, are all areas that education providers should explore. Given that low expectations and lack of expectations are an issue, the initiative that young Travellers show in staying in school or coming to a YOUTHREACH centre (which may be predominantly populated by settled young people) needs to be affirmed and used as a positive variable by educators and trainers.
Finally, it is important to note that significant change is afoot and it is both necessary and appropriate to take a long view.
Travellers and early school leaving
It is difficult to separate the phenomenon of early school leaving amongst Travellers from the broader question of the situation of Travellers in Irish society. As has been noted above, educational disadvantage is concentrated amongst Travellers. According to the NAPS Working Group on Educational Disadvantage,
Only a minority of Traveller children transfer from primary to second level schooling, and it is estimated that 80% of those aged between 12 and 15 years of age did not attend any school. The majority of those who attend second level school leave within the first two years.
As to why Travellers leave school early in such numbers, many explanations have been offered, including Traveller culture, cultural oppression and poverty, especially the high cost of second level schooling for low-income families. Low expectations (of the child, the school and education alike) are cited as are low levels of parental education – children do not have spaces to study at home and often their parents find it difficult to support them with homework.
However, the strong emphasis in Traveller culture on work, trading and money is also a factor in early school leaving. Pragmatism is strongly in evidence amongst young Travellers in YOUTHREACH settings, and their families. Parents and young people evaluate the benefits and losses likely to accrue from continued participation in school and make consequent rational choices. This favours lengthier participation by females (who are seen to benefit from education) and early school leaving by boys who are expected to adopt working roles and contribute financially when they reach an appropriate age. In turn, many boys question the value of continuing in school. They also frequently argue that, due to anti-Traveller bias, qualifications do not help Travellers gain employment in the settled economy and their best bet is to cut their losses and leave as early as they can (into the Traveller economy).
Transition theories posit a number of key stages in the transition from childhood to adulthood and these apply to Traveller and settled people alike. They consist of leaving school, starting work and leaving home to establish one’s own independent domicile, however closely one’s family is involved in these transitional stages. In this process, remaining in school extends childhood and economic dependency. As is the case with every adolescent, independence and adulthood seem to come from the formation of a very clear individual identity. For young Travellers in particular, freedom comes with adulthood and adulthood is defined by leaving home through marriage i.e. liberation from home, parents and a promise of one’s own trailer. A very high proportion of Traveller boys prefer to move quickly into adulthood. Leaving school is part of this process. Indeed, Travellers have traditionally regarded Catholic Confirmation as the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood leading some observers to suggest that Confirmation should take place later to extend childhood and retain young Travellers in school.
As regards schooling, many young Travellers experience difficulties with the transition to post-primary education. Youth workers and staff in YOUTHREACH centres and STTCs say this is because they are not encouraged to make the transition and often are not told of entrance examinations and the like. These practitioners suggest that this is a systematic problem, not a Traveller problem as young Travellers have no difficulties in making successful transitions to places where their peers are. School cultural factors are also noted, especially the degree to which the school embodies and espouses the values and attitudes of settled people. However, it is also clear that factors associated with Traveller culture can be difficult to reconcile with the demands of schooling and especially the achievement of appropriate qualifications outcomes. This is as likely to apply in a YOUTHREACH setting as a school. One contributor to this submission reported that her Centre had one settled Traveller in attendance at the time of writing, and that
The biggest problem we are facing with this trainee is his poor attendance. He has been in our FETAC group since joining us last year. He was due to start the LCA last September but didn’t come back to the centre until mid October, during which time we could not make contact with his family. We came back to work on January 7th after the Christmas holidays, this trainee is only back with us this week (23rd January). His family seem to travel a lot, especially during the holidays. He would like to do the LCA, he is academically very capable but his lack of attendance would militate against this.
It’s difficult to do anything in a situation where family circumstances dictate whether or not a trainee attends the centre. It seems to us that a lot of work needs to be done with Traveller families re awareness of the importance of education and qualifications in this day and age.
So, lack of continuity between home and school is one issue. So too is the discontinuity between the child-centred approach of primary school and the subject focus of second level. High levels of special education needs are also identified, including dyslexia, speech, language and ADHD.
Travellers in YOUTHREACH
YOUTHREACH provides education and training to early school leavers aged 15 – 20+ who have left school with no qualifications. Notwithstanding the existence of dedicated provision for Travellers in the Senior Traveller Training Centres, young Travellers are a significant presence in YOUTHREACH. Surveys conducted in 1998 and 2002 found the following:
8-10% of YOUTHREACH participants are from a travelling background;
67% were settled and 33% were travelling/nomadic;
63% were female, 37% male. These proportions are exactly inverse to the male: female ratio amongst early school leavers and reflect the absorption young Traveller males into the Traveller economy and the greater interest amongst female Travellers in education.
The proportion of young Travellers is slowly rising in YOUTHREACH throughout the country. Various explanations have been offered for this. They include the location of centres, better links between settled and Traveller communities at school (which continue into YOUTHREACH), a need or desire (on the part of Travellers) to integrate with the settled community, a perception amongst young Travellers that STTCs are increasingly the preserve of older (and largely female) Travellers and changes within the Travelling community itself. The proportion of Travellers is considerably higher in a number of centres, for example in Tuam and Tralee. (Also, over 50% of participants in one centre in West Cork are ‘New Age travellers’. Few of these young people had been in any school in Ireland or Britain before joining YOUTHREACH).
As regards qualifications, 12.5% of these young people are entered for the Junior Certificate and 60% for FETAC (NCVA) Certification at Foundation Level or Level 1. Others have taken the Leaving Certificate Applied. Ten per cent enter employment in the settled economy. In general, males leave for work in the Traveller economy or in casual employment. The following employment areas are identified by YOUTHREACH practitioners:
as assembly operators
on building sites
black market selling of flags, etc
in scrap dealing
as nurses’ aides
as domestics in hospitals
in primary health care
train food trolley operatives
as office cleaners
as canteen workers
as supermarket check-out assistants
in sports i.e. boxing
Amusements, eg Funderland and similar
in the arts, dancing, singing, traditional crafts
selling cars, and carpets or as car park attendants
in window washing
in youth and community work
Part 2: Towards a Traveller Education Strategy
While it is often argued that education is an engine for change in society and the economy, its capacity to deliver tangible short-term social and economic change is limited. Schools and centres for education cannot provide houses or halting sites. They cannot make communities more tolerant of Travellers overnight. They cannot solve addiction problems without significant additional resources. They cannot generate employment opportunities on any meaningful scale. Furthermore, if local employers will not employ Travellers, the latter will have lower expectations of employment and in turn of the value of education – they are therefore more likely to think in terms of the Traveller economy and to leave school early. There is only so much that schools can do in this regard. Indeed, there are cases where schools made significant efforts to be inclusive and where enrolment dropped as parents of settled children changed schools.
It is also the case that many people come to education with needs that are beyond the system’s capacities. Schools are schools and centres are centres. They operate from 09:00-17:00 at most, not on a 24/7 basis. Adequate responses to these complex needs sets demand inter-agency activity on a scale and level of effectiveness that challenge our present service infrastructure and the dominant vertical service paradigm.
That said, while schools and centres for education cannot be expected to meet an individual’s global set of needs (for example, for shelter) nor compensate for society’s inherent inequality and social reproduction in the short-term, they have a central role in the generation of a more equal and tolerant society. The Traveller Education Strategy should focus on the achievement of two broad objectives, one immediate and the other long-term:
to improve the quality of participation in, and outcomes of, education for Travellers
by so doing, and in whatever other ways are possible, to prevent, pre-empt and alleviate the difficulties Travellers face in Irish society
Bearing in mind the observations already made, doing so implies change on a variety of levels – paradigm, system, institution and practice. In the present context, these refer to provision for Travellers. However, they are also relevant across the spectrum of educational disadvantage.
At the level of paradigm:
Five principal paradigmatic changes are proposed:
From the monocultural to the multicultural – at the level of society, provision for Travellers must now be set within the broader framework of intercultural education: how minorities are catered for in our education system. This is generating an educational challenge, to broaden approaches and curricula to address the specific needs of minorities and to cater for the cultural diversity that is emerging;
From equality of opportunity to equality of participation and outcome;
From school completion to education completion – this fits with the philosophy behind the Education Welfare Act and with the lifelong learning model. It provides a child-centred way of interlocking School Completion, Educational Welfare and YOUTHREACH. It means that, if a YOUTHREACH centre, STTC or CTC is the most appropriate place for a child, then the child can and should be accommodated there.
From deficit to credit – the learning/teaching process should try to see the child’s strengths, not weaknesses. It is also important to accept the child as s/he is, rather than blaming the child for her/his problems (in this case because s/he is a Traveller);
from inherent risk (possibility) to active risk (actuality) – for a generation we have been preoccupied with the identification and quantification of risk factors and with establishing mechanisms to deal with them. Being a Traveller is seen to be such a risk. But not all children are equally at risk. A passive risk factor is not a problem whereas and active risk is. Hence the need, especially in early years, to identify problems and target appropriate resources and actions on the individual child. This also indicates a change from general prevention to preventive intervention.
At the level of systems
In turn, a number of changes are indicated at the level of systems to achieve accessibility, stability, predictability (of service and outcome), consistency and cohesion (say between health service and education providers, or indeed within a school). The three key ecosystems in which children develop – family, school and community (including the peer group) – need to be consistently and coherently addressed. Many of the young Travellers’ most pressing needs are beyond the compass of the education system. It is important for educationalists to deliver optimum service in those areas that are within their control and field of expertise and to collaborate with colleagues with other responsibilities and expertise where appropriate.
At system level, three key ideas are advanced:
Educational welfare – this is not simply a matter of school attendance and completion. It is also to do with the quality and appropriateness of education, its responsiveness to presenting and hidden needs and the establishment of continuity between school and centres for education/training;
Multi-modality – this has been found to be of key importance in tackling educational disadvantage. It means that different modes, of participation yield the same outcomes, including status of awards. It is also the case that for many reasons – technology is just one – the role of the teacher/tutor is increasingly that of a manager of learning rather than the fount of all knowledge and source of all information. It is now increasingly possible to tailor learning programmes for children, even within the existing frameworks of syllabi and programmes. This also fits with the knowledge society’s imperative that we encourage self-direction and ‘learning to learn’ approaches.
Differential resourcing regime responsive to level of need – Centres must be resourced to properly address the needs of young Travellers and offer them the support and programme they require for their individual development. The centres should also be given the supports they require to organise themselves so as to address these needs. However things function, resources should congregate where most needed, and the individual child is one of the best ‘attractors’ of resources, though they may be allocated otherwise (to a school, as is presently envisaged). Also, resources (for learners with SENs and disabilities) must follow from primary to post-primary to Further Education – there are many cases where this does not happen and centres for education/training delivering YOUTHREACH do not have the specialised resources to adequately cope with the needs of these learners.
In turn, three key changes follow:
from a system of detached components to an integrated system – while the education system may be generally coherent, the components are largely self-standing. They should be demonstrably part of a single system offering multiple modes of participation. Most children, and in time this will include young Travellers, will participate in the mainstream model, but other modes should be, and should be seen to be, of equal status and outcome. This change demands greater interactivity between formal and non-formal as well.
from project infrastructure to service infrastructure – we’ve learned a great deal from the many projects we have funded in this State over the last generation. Now we need (within available resources) to implement what they tell us. There are many advantages to this change, for example holding on to people with enormous experience many of whom leave because their (project) contractual situation is untenable.
from the age of heroism to the age of professionalism – or, from the age of the vocation to the age of the profession. In dealing with disadvantage we have relied to an inordinate degree on heroism. Professionalism is more sustainable. This is the reasoning behind the Quality Framework Initiative in YOUTHREACH Centres and STTCs.
The implementation and delivery of these concepts and consequent changes will operate at many levels. As regards a Traveller Education Strategy, three are of particular importance, school/centre organisation and programme design, curriculum and assessment and teacher training.
Traveller Education should be an intrinsic part of School and Centre Development Planning, with all staff developing an integrated approach, and not just in schools where there are Travellers enrolled at present. Every school and centre for education should have a policy on working with Travellers. This may include agreement on responses to racism, bullying, reporting and the establishment of appropriate links with Traveller community networks. It is especially important that young people feel that they belong in the school or centre. Whereas young Irish people have a greater sense of belonging to their school than is the case in other countries, those who do not feel they belong drop out. Travellers are particularly at risk in this regard.
Traveller parents need to be supported in developing links with schools at all levels, so that there is less dependency on the Visiting Teacher Service. This is a capacity-building process and directly involves Home-School-Community Liaison personnel, where deployed, as well as School Completion projects. It should be an aspiration of all schools and centres for education catering for Traveller children to involve their parents in consultation and management. This is already a feature of Senior Traveller Training Centres. Likewise, it is also imperative that local settled communities be targeted. Community development must come to mean more than ‘empowerment’, consciousness of rights and assertiveness, It must also mean inclusiveness and consciousness of responsibilities. Local networks need to be supported in developing Traveller Education strategies at local level.
As regards supports, a meaningful counselling service to students should be available across the education spectrum. Every effort should be made to ensure access to suitable appraisal processes, individual education planning and appropriate learning support.
Programme design, curriculum and assessment
Turning to programme design, curriculum and assessment, a central function of education is to facilitate Travellers in exploring the history of their group and what currently happens to their group in the broader culture. The challenge for educators is to find a way of tapping into the learned knowledge, values and behaviours of the Traveller culture and the individual’s learning style. This also involves challenge, that with rights come responsibilities. The interaction is a partnership between educator and participant, a process of empowerment whereby the latter becomes independent of the former and the author of her/his own destiny.
Young Travellers seem to live for the present and it is very important that they know when a given activity will end and what its outcomes will be. Long term rewards built into a programme may have very little significance. Information presented should be tangible and relevant to the participants’ lives. Learning programmes should:
be flexible yet structured in a manner that allows for religious beliefs and attendance at religious functions and festivals while creating an awareness with regard to future problems that may arise in relation to securing paid employment;
create opportunities for success and use these as a platform for structured challenges that build self-esteem. With regard to young Travellers, building self-esteem should be set in the context of the whole community.
have opportunities for the development of individual practical skills and initiative development;
allow for the development of oral skills including opportunities for stories to be told and songs to be sung. The opportunities offered by various media should be fully utilised (e.g. oral, written, film, artistic, creative writing etc.) as should different forums (i.e. gender specific groups, personal contact time with staff or even non-formal opportunities for dialogue);
develop the individual’s literacy and numeracy skills; Staff should be aware of the ways in which particular individuals learn. A non-threatening creative approach must be explicit. It is important to work with small numbers around basic concepts, and where possible use Traveller-specific learning materials. Travellers’ life-skills manual and the primary school Traveller religion books, Traveller songs and poetry, and Traveller videos and tapes seem to have a proven track record. Staff should be encouraged to produce their own culturally appropriate material if this is not already available to them
ensure that all transitions, especially in work related areas, be gradual, supervised positively and supported. Work placement should be a positive, well planned component where participants are properly prepared, their social skills developed, vocational skills outlined and fail-safe structures put in place. Peers can be used as role models. Placement may be supported through a mentoring system, with an emphasis on attendance, time keeping and social skill development. It is important that young Travellers are not set up to fail. Using youth and community work services as a placement opportunity can be safe. It is important to open up new opportunities and perceptions of work resourced by the use of advocates, mentors, counsellors and the development of strong networks. A key worker or mentor-type system incorporated into any timetable may allow for individual goal setting and personal development opportunities.
have a strong social, health and personal development component.. At all levels, education and training programmes should allow for single sex group work, catering for and acknowledging the different needs of young Traveller girls and boys which require varied gender specific responses. Issues include relationships, roles, expectations, parental relationships, discipline and boundary setting, cultural differences, specific gender values, choices, hygiene, domestic and financial issues and future employment opportunities. There may also be evidence of different interest levels of fathers and mothers in the participant’s progress according to their particular gender.
afford the participants the opportunity to compete – individual games such as table tennis are proven in their ability to motivate young Travellers. Opportunities to mix in and team build with other members of the settled community must be created. Networks into sports in the local community must be established if barriers are to be broken down outside of the centre.
There is a need for culturally relevant resources and materials. A directory of such resources (and also of professional services) would be a useful development. It could be disseminated through the Internet.
At a systematic level, the needs of a multi-cultural society and an intercultural approach will demand changes in pre-service and in-service training for teachers, tutors and other staff. The training needs of school principals and deputy principals as well as co-ordinators and directors of centres for education, especially as regards in-school/centre leadership and community liaison are of particular importance.
At the level of practice
The foregoing also comprehends many of the changes needed at the level of practice in schools and centres for education. Much teaching practice embodies a medical or problem-identification model. The consequent negative effects are multiplied in the case of Travellers. The focus should rather be on inclusiveness and on problem-solving. Staff should be prepared for groups with different ability levels and to respond to a range of issues including the following:
Sexist behaviour exhibited by the young people towards each other, members of the public and/or female staff should always be challenged;
Punctuality – young people usually have perfectly reasonable explanations;
Illness – more often, more serious – for example, two infants in the extended family circle of a YOUTHREACH participant died within a year;
Finding the balance between what are cultural norms and deviant behaviour;
The importance attached to attendance at funerals, weddings and anniversaries of extended family members.
Teachers and tutors need strong support from social workers, Visiting Teachers for Travellers, Home-School-Community Liaison personnel, and so on. They also need frontline counselling and conflict management skills.
As a consequence of the foregoing, the Traveller Education Strategy should focus on three priorities at the level of practice: the initial training of teachers and tutors, their continuing professional development and the maintenance of their professional wellbeing.
The initial training of teachers and tutors
This priority is referred to above. Particular challenges face teachers and tutors in optimising educational outcomes for Travellers, as discussed already. In terms of attitudes, they should be accepting and affirming, able to listen, encourage, challenge and respond. High expectations are crucial, even where they exceed those of the child or her/his parents. While flexibility is imperative teachers and tutors must also be consistent, decisive and unambiguous in their relations with the young people. In-built ‘outs’ are useful (to accommodate all situations which would otherwise result in loss of face by participant and staff members alike). There is a pressing need to redesign initial training courses with these factors in mind.
The continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and tutors
Change is a fundamental dynamic of our society and all skill sets must be updated and enhanced as a matter of routine. Teaching is no exception. Provision for Travellers (or any other minority, for that matter) cannot simply be delegated to Visiting Teachers, resource teachers, etc. Instead, it is appropriate to revive the model of the teacher as general practitioner, a professional educator whose functions include the pastoral. This means being aware of problems on the home front such as illness, alcohol abuse, violence, family feuds, funerals, anniversaries, etc. In turn, this demands liaison and effective communication channels both within school/centre and between school/centre and other services. Accordingly,
the education partners should agree that continuing professional development of teachers and tutors will be a central characteristic, and indeed dynamic, of the Irish education system;
the Traveller Education Strategy should establish mechanisms whereby all teachers and tutors develop or acquire new or relevant skills and techniques, including conflict resolution skills appropriate to optimising the participation of Travellers in Irish education.
There are excellent models of teacher/tutor skill and knowledge development, especially in the youth, training and adult education areas. Consideration should be given to cataloguing these, mainstreaming and generalising their availability in a manner that would encourage participation by teaching staff and to incentivising individual practitioners to enhance their skill set through recognition of additional qualifications. The Danish model of teacher/tutor CPD is one that might be considered. Such arrangements should be consistent with other developments in teacher/tutor CPD in education.
The maintenance of the professional well-being of teachers and tutors working with Travellers
Those working in the area of educational disadvantage frequently encounter complex and difficult situations and consequent stress and distress. The risk of burn-out is very high and management of schools and Centres must take steps to support those working in frontline situations. This is no more than their responsibility to those they employ. Such supports may include regular supervision and access to external supports on a regular basis where they may sort out work-related baggage. Staff will also need opportunities for stress release where they can discuss (in a safe supportive environment) how the work may be affecting them both individually or as members of a programme team. The Traveller Education Strategy should emphasise that such arrangements need to be spelt out – in terms of who, what, where and how – in school/centre development plans an human resource management plans adopted by VECs. Staff maintenance also involves NEPS.
YOUTHREACH and other centres for Education
All the foregoing applies to centres for education delivering YOUTHREACH as it does to schools. The programme is based on affirmation and acceptance, adopts an experiential learning approach, supports the young person in developing her/his self-esteem and views the young person as a partner in a learning process, not as a consumer of an educational product. Considerable distance has already been travelled by its practitioners towards providing an appropriate education and training response to the needs of young Travellers. The Traveller Education Strategy should recommend the following principal building blocks as regards providing appropriate education and training options for young Travellers in YOUTHREACH settings:
In order to implement the idea of educational welfare and education completion, it is necessary to establish continuity of service between schools and centres for education, including YOUTHREACH Centres and STTCs. It is likely that this will happen where Education Welfare Officers and School Completion programmes are in place. However, the number of places allocated under YOUTHREACH is capped. So too is its allocation of teaching and training resources which, while appropriate to meeting the core education and training needs of early school leavers, are not adequate to respond to special education needs, acute counselling needs, excessively problematic behaviours, out-of-centre work or home-centre liaison. The programme cannot accept additional referrals without
the allocation of extra places sufficient to meet the demands of properly functioning referral processes and
such additional resources as are required to meet presenting needs.
It can also be argued that other initiatives, such as Home School Community Liaison and SPHE programming should comprehend centres for education as well as schools.
The Quality Framework Initiative (QFI)
The QFI is being implemented in YOUTHREACH Centres and STTCs. It is directly analogous to the School Development Planning Initiative. It provides an appropriate centre planning mechanism in which to address centre policies and practice on interculturalism, equality and participant rights as well as issues of quality and relevance.
Because some YOUTHREACH Centres and STTCs have been around for some time, many centres still operate as ‘training centres’ and therefore continue to deliver outdated modules/ programmes using inappropriate teaching methodologies. Young Travellers in particular, like all young people, can easily become bored in this environment. Practitioners need to realise that programmes, methodologies and teaching resources that were once successful may now be due for revision. In addition centres need to examine the relevance of the centre ethos, aims and objectives, policies, procedures and general practice to ensure that they are responding in a vital and appropriate manner to the ever-changing needs of the client group.
The Quality Framework encourages centres to continuously work towards improvement, to review centre practice and engage in strategic planning and to evaluate progress on an annual basis. It emphasises the need for learners to evaluate the programmes and services provided by centres so that these continue to be stimulating and relevant, apart from the fact that engaging learners in evaluation processes improves learners’ sense of power and belonging.
The D/ES should support and encourage centres in embracing the concept of quality assurance. The Inspectorate should actively engage with centres of education to ensure the quality of the education provided. This engagement should not be tokenistic. The Inspectorate should clarify expectations with regard to quality standards and systematically engage with centres of education as they would with schools in the Whole School Evaluation and School Development Planning Processes. Practitioners will take the quality of the service provided to Travellers more seriously if the Vocational Education Committees and the D/ES are seen to have clear expectations with regard to the quality of the programmes and services that are to be provided to Travellers in centres for education.
The ‘District Approach’
YOUTHREACH Centres should be encouraged and supported to work with other specifically targeted programmes and initiatives working with young Travellers, within a local multi-agency or ‘district’ approach; also with Home School Community Liaison practitioners, School Completion Programmes and Educational Welfare Officers.
Provision in centres should include a coherent programme dealing with social, personal and health development. A module on interculturalism should form part of this whether there are Travellers in the centre or not.
Appropriate supports for participants
A limited level of support is already available in YOUTHREACH and STTC settings for childcare and guidance counselling and psychological services. These should be enhanced – as already noted, early school leavers (and young Travellers as a subset of this more general set) often present with needs that are significantly beyond both the resources available and technical capacities of programme staff. It is necessary that this question be addressed under any new arrangements for responding to disabilities and special education needs.
Other needs cited by programme staff towards this submission include culturally relevant assessment, e.g. IQ testing and adequate resources to provide 1-1 support in literacy and numeracy, if required. (In general, YOUTHREACH practitioners prefer to respond to such needs in a group context). The need for adequate resources to meet SENs has already been raised above.
Appropriate training and support for staff
Earlier general remarks regarding the training and support needs of staff also apply in centres for education delivering YOUTHREACH. Indeed, given the concentration of disadvantage and distress they encounter on a daily basis, staff in these centres should be recognised as a priority group under the Traveller Education Strategy for appropriate supports and maintenance arrangements. As regards their continuing professional development, a number of issues are of particular importance. They include:
Clarification of roles and boundaries especially in relation to the management and transfer of information and the area of referral to external skilled professionals;
The need for the development of para-professional skills in relation to the areas of listening and counselling;
Clarification in relation to reporting procedures of physical abuse of underage Travellers (especially girls) where it is their express wish that staff would not intervene in their private affairs.
opportunities to develop networking arrangements as an aspect of the programme;
Staff safety issues and concerns; Insurance issues in relation to professional boundaries.
Assessment and certification
Recent years have seen the education and training system make great strides in changing and improving systems of assessment and certification. Of particular importance are FETAC certification and the Leaving Certificate Applied. Through YOUTHREACH many young Travellers have achieved certification that they would not have thought possible. Repeatedly, programme teachers and tutors encounter parents and participants who proclaim that the young person is ‘the first member of the family ever to achieve a Leaving Certificate’ or Level 1 award. In addition, Travellers are aware that such certification is a prerequisite for participation in the settled economy. The principal issue that requires attention is the low participation by young Traveller men in such programmes. It is likely that this reflects the Traveller economy.
Financial support for Travellers in education
Participants in YOUTHREACH receive a training allowance. They also receive a travel allowance and a small meal allowance. Heretofore a young person under 15 has not been eligible for the training allowance. Given the change in the law regarding the school-leaving age in the Education Welfare Act, it will be necessary to change these arrangements and to restrict payment of the allowance to over 16s.
Notwithstanding the general view that the cost of second-level education is a disincentive to Traveller families to keep their children in school, payment of an allowance to Traveller children under 16 in schools is not a realistic option – it could not be denied to other children in school. Some more selective mechanism of support is required. This might be organised through Health Boards under the Children Act or through the D/SFA. However, the financial support of families of children under 16 years of age is not a responsibility of the Department of Education and Science.
Finally, any arrangements for the financial support of young Travellers should be consistent, fair and transparent.