British teachers say Romani children from Central Europe do well at mainstream schools in UK
A series of seminars has taken place in various towns throughout the Czech Republic recently at which educators from Great Britain have shared their experiences in educating Romani children with their Czech counterparts. The main topic of the seminars was the British practice of including Romani children into mainstream schools, where the vast majority of them are succeeding. A pilot study presented at the seminars showed that Romani children who had previously attended the Czech or Slovak "practical schools" quickly caught up to their peers at standard British schools and are achieving average results there.
The seminars were organized by the British NGO Equality, the British Embassy, and the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities as a follow-up to the pilot study, entitled "From Segregation to Inclusion". Equality conducted the study in 2011 with a target group of Romani pupils from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The study found that Romani pupils could be included into mainstream British schools without significant problems even though 85 % of them had attended "practical schools" in their home countries.
British Ambassador Sian MacLeod told the seminars that “I firmly believe every child should be given the chance to make the fullest possible use of his or her potential. I hope this series of seminars will facilitate informed debate on this topic and that it will make a modest contribution toward a better future for children from socially disadvantaged communities. It is in everyone's interest for these children to strive for the highest possible education and actively contribute to the existence of a healthy, tolerant and prosperous society."
Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková addressed the seminars as follows: “The disproportionately high numbers of Romani children in the 'practical schools' are a problem that Czech education has long grappled with. Research undertaken by the Czech School Inspection Authority has shown that that almost 50 % of the Romani pupils in some regions attend 'practical schools'. In locations where the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion is working, we are doing our best, together with our local partners, to intensively work on supporting the inclusion of Romani pupils from excluded localities into mainstream schools. This is why these seminars are a very valuable opportunity for us and our partners to become inspired to do more work in this area. Quality education is one of the most significant impulses toward helping these children become able to leave the cycle of poverty into which they were born once they grow up.”
The seminars were open to all interested professionals, in particular to school directors, educators and teaching assistants from mainstream and "practical" elementary schools, as well as employees of local and regional authorities responsible for education, social affairs and social inclusion. Staff members of nonprofit organizations and others working with the Romani community were also invited.
Educators, community workers and educational advisers from the British towns of Leicester, Rotherham and Peterborough spoke at the seminars. All three towns have large Romani communities. Teacher Mark Penfold of Babington Community College in Leicester said: "Our 70 Romani students did very well in becoming familiar with our school. Naturally, as with any group of children, some of them made fantastic progress and others need a little more assistance. However, all of these children are a great contribution to the school. Right now our Romani students are putting together a musical. I originally wanted them to make it about Romani culture and history, but they preferred the topic of what it is like for them to move to Leicester and live there. They are more interested in the present and the future than the past.”
Margaret Campbell, the main educational consultant to the local authority in Bradford, also gave an interesting presentation on that town's program for achieving good educational results in the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities, saying: "We have many examples of good practice in the British education system, but we cannot pretend we have not made mistakes in the past. All of this is the result of years of work during which we learned from our own failings and mistakes. The one thing that has no place in the British school system is racism, whether between educators or between pupils. It is not possible to separate a particular group of pupils from others solely on the basis of their ethnicity. If that were to happen, we have very good legal instruments for halting those manifestations of racism and preventing their recurrence."
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