Good practice guide: developing positive relationships with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families

Every year June marks the start of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) History Month; this is an opportunity to raise awareness of GRT communities, celebrate their contributions to society, as well as helping to tackle negative stereotypes and prejudice they may face. This year’s theme is “Weaving Journeys: A celebration of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller lives, histories and cultures”.

NAHT recognises GRT History Month as a positive opportunity to support members in their ongoing work with GRT pupils and families, both during the month itself, but also throughout the year.

We know members understand the importance of strong, and constructive relationships, with families and carers, to support the education of the children and young people in your schools. Of course, the approach you take, may differ depending on the different needs, backgrounds, and cultures of the respective families in your school(s).

That’s why this GRT History Month, we’re taking the opportunity to re-share our advice, drawn from best practice research and case studies, to support members to develop and/or strengthen their positive relationships with the families of GRT pupils in your school(s).

This guide provides suggestions and pointers on coordinating and maintaining high levels of positive communication, cultivating a welcoming environment for GRT pupils and families, and working flexibly to provide tailored solutions to meet the specific needs of individuals.

Coordinating contact

  • Designate a key named member of staff to keep in contact with GRT parents and coordinate any GRT issues within the school. This member of staff should be proactive in communicating with families about absences, issues or upcoming school events, as well as offering more general support to GRT families. Consideration should be given to what training the named member of staff should have to support them in this role.
  • Ensure your school maintains a high, positive level of contact with GRT families through home visits and telephone contact.
  • Make contact with the family the first day their child is absent from school. This shows the child is considered part of the school and cared about. It also highlights the importance placed on attendance.
  • Some families may be wary of allowing their children to go on school trips. Ensure GRT parents and guardians are informed verbally and in writing about travel and sleeping arrangements, health and safety policies, and the level of supervision involved.
  • Some schools have found it helpful to send update texts to GRT parents who are particularly anxious during a pupil’s first few weeks at school. These short texts can reassure parents that their child is happy and settling in well, as well as demonstrating the school’s commitment to the child’s safety and well-being.
  • Clearly explain to families and pupils the school’s policies and practices on issues such as bullying, inclusion, security, attendance, behaviour and health and safety.
  • Ensure early interventions on issues of attendance and pupil behaviour. By including families in these interventions, they’ll gain confidence in the school’s commitment to their child.
  • Work alongside families to help improve their child’s attendance if this is an issue. Emphasise the lasting impact that low attendance levels can have on a child’s education and explain any strategies the school may have in place to value and reward good or improving attendance.

Cultivating a welcoming environment

  • Keep a spare supply of second-hand uniforms, particularly specialist items such as branded or embroidered jumpers or ties in the school’s colours. Some families may struggle to quickly obtain the correct school uniform or may not consider it necessary if they won’t be in the area for long. Being able to lend these uniform items to pupils can help them to immediately feel part of the school and settle in more quickly.
  • Consistently engage the family in school activities and invite them personally to events wherever possible. Involve them in the production and running of school plays, fetes and other activities.
  • Be aware that some GRT parents may be unfamiliar with some school processes and protocols. For instance, they may not know the administrative process for paying for school dinners or school trips, or that if a child doesn’t go on a school trip, they don’t have to stay at home. A tour of the school can be a useful opportunity to familiarise families with the school.
  • Ensure administrative staff are welcoming to families and pupils, and able to tactfully offer assistance in filling out forms or paperwork.
  • A family’s transport options may be limited. Offering transport to these pupils can remove the barriers of them accessing the school and improve attendance.
  • Low attendance at parents’ evenings is often because of parental anxiety, rather than a lack of interest or support. Some schools have hosted separate parents’ evenings for GRT parents following consultation with them. These are used as useful opportunities to welcome them to the school and give them an insight into their child’s education.

Working flexibly

  • If families are concerned or anxious about their child attending the school full time, consider arranging for their children to attend on a flexible or part-time timetable to help them settle in and ease any concerns their parents may have.
  • A part-time timetable should only be instigated for a very limited time (generally seen as a maximum of six weeks) and with the full consent and approval of the parents. It should be set up with specific targets for improved attendance, identified strategies for meeting those targets and regular opportunities for review. Reference to this can be found in the FAQs at the end of the DfE guidance on school attendance
  • It’s quite common for GRT families to expect older children to look after younger siblings in school during break and lunch times. Aim to maintain a flexible approach to allow mixed-age groups to play together during these times and ensure playground staff are aware of these arrangements.
  • Some secondary schools have seen great success in offering a flexible vocational or work-related curriculum to pupils. Having the opportunity to develop skills that are tailored to individual pupils’ aspirations can engage both parents and pupils, and greatly improve pupil motivation and attendance.
  • Work with GRT families and pupils to develop strategies that can allow GRT pupils to stay in contact with the school and engaged with schoolwork while they travel.
  • Ensure any member of staff who teaches GRT pupils has been made aware of any needs, concerns or sensitivities of the family. For instance, different GRT families may have different opinions on their children receiving sex education or getting changed for PE in communal changing rooms. These issues should be discussed individually with each family.
  • Celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month each June by perhaps using the Travellers Times resources or information from the Traveller Movement website
  • Draw inspiration from other schools which have worked successfully with the GRT community. The government’s case studies of schools that have been successful in supporting access to education for GRT children is a useful starting point.

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