Yesterday I attended an event at Strathclyde University reporting back on the finding from “Roma families’ engagement with education and other services in Glasgow” by Dr Sime and Dr Fassetta. It looked at the experiences of Roma families who have moved to Glasgow and the services that support them. (If you are interested we recommend reading the full report- http://tinyurl.com/ppalqwr).
The report interviewed teachers and parents and gave some valuable insights into what it is like for the new families moving into Glasgow and the positive role that schools have in welcoming them. Within the small area of Govanhill where the majority of the Roma families have settled the schools have become the first point of information for families, going far beyond their duties to helping families with benefit claims and services. While Govanhill has been very stretched by the levels of immigration, the schools have taken the opportunity to build links with the local community to work together to help the families.
Roma families have often had very negative experiences of schools in their home countries, including high levels of discrimination. This has meant that they often have difficulties trusting school. We head from Wendy English, Principal teacher at Annette Street primary about the concerns that parents had around school trips- including anxiety that their children would be taken away. This meant that parents would keep children off school on the day of the trip and children missed out on valuable learning experiences. To address this the Roma children and families department arranged an opportunity for the parents to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery before the trip, this gave them the chance to see where their children would go, reassure them that it was safe and to visit another part of the city. Working creatively with other organisations including housing associations, the local Big Noise children’s music group, health services and social work has helped the schools to meet the needs in a joined up way.
The report also highlighted the cultural differences that schools and education services need to deal with. The Roma families are generally very close and children are constantly with their parents. It has been a struggle to get Roma families to take their children to nursery. One mother said
Who else can look after my baby better than me? Send him to nursery, when he needs to sleep in the afternoon, and he needs his mother if he falls over or something.
The schools have been working with the families to develop that trust, including telling parents that when their children at school the teachers were their mothers, using the language of families to reassure parents. Understanding the values of the community the pupils come from is central to being able to engage with parents and it was great to see so many teachers from the schools within Govanhill at the event eager to learn more about the lives and experiences of the Roma families.
While there are huge challenges to engaging with migrant families the schools have some brilliant good practice- particularly in working in partnership with local services and the staff commitment to truly understanding and respecting the cultural backgrounds that their children come from.