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   Inside Out - West Midlands: Friday January 26, 2007
"I worry about it at night. I dream that I've moved and I'm in a different school and I don't know where to go." Shannon Scarrott
Shannon Scarrott studying at her caravan home

Educating Shannon

Traveller children have the worst records when it comes to school attendance, literacy and attainment.

Twelve thousand of them in the UK aren't even registered with a school.

Travelling showman Shady Scarrott can barely sign his own name - and is determined that his daughter Shannon avoids the same fate.

But the uncertainties of the travelling lifestyle, including life on illegal sites and the threat of eviction leaves her future at a Gloucestershire school in doubt.

Inside Out asks whether traveller children are being forgotten by the education system.

And if they are, who's to blame?

Shannon's story

Nine-year-old Shannon Scarrott attends Grangefield Primary School in Bishop's Cleeve, Gloucestershire.

She has been there for four years.

Shannon at school
Staying in one school is Shannon's dream

For the last six years her traveller family has lived on illegal sites during the winter.

They were unable to find a legal site anywhere in the country, let alone in the school's catchment area.

There is a shortage of legal travellers sites nationally, and Gloucestershire mirrors the national picture.

The prospect of having to leave her school haunts Shannon and her family, as she explains:

"I worry about it at night. I dream that I've moved and I'm in a different school and I don't know where to go.

"Sometimes it's a nightmare, sometimes it's a day dream. And then I wake up."

Her father Shady Scarrott says that won't give up travelling despite the uncertainty it places over his daughter's education.

However he is concerned that Shannon and the other travelling children receive proper schooling:

"We're quite determined they're going to get an education.

"The teachers are determined that our children will get one.

"But how long we can keep them at those schools I don't know.

"I want them to have a fair crack at the whip. The day and age (which) we're in people's got to have an education."

Home study
Homework - studying back home at the family caravan

He is anxious about what to do for the best:

"It puts me and my wife in a big difficulty because where do my children get an education if we haven't got a base and we haven't got anywhere to live?"

"Why should I live in a house? I was born in a wagon like this one.

"My father was born in a wagon and his father too and generations before."

Until recently the family lived on an illegal site, and chose to move on before they were evicted.

Now they're living on a farmer's land, with his blessing.

But unless the council grants planning permission, there's no guarantee they'll be able to stay.

Fears for the future

Fact file

There are approx 15,000 traveller caravans in the UK - 72 per cent of these are on authorised sites.

Twenty eight per cent are on unauthorised developments or encampments. Twelve per cent are on unauthorised developments (where Gypsies and Irish Travellers own the land but do not have planning permission) and 16% on unauthorised encampments (where Gypsies and Irish Travellers do not own the land and planning consent has not been given for use as a site).

Gypsy and Irish Traveller pupils in England are the group most at risk of failure in the education system.

In 2003 Roma Gypsy pupils and 42% of Irish Traveller pupils in England obtained five or more A*-C GCSEs, compared with the national overall average of 51%.

In the same year 22% of Roma Gypsy pupils and 17% of Irish Traveller pupils obtained no passes, compared with 6% the overall average.

Source: CRE and DFE

We meet Shannon's headteacher who fears for her future, and that of other traveller's children, unless more is done to include them in the education system.

Lynne Mitchell from Head Teacher Grangefield Primary School says:

"We have children on this site who are used to being here and are good learners.

"If they are moved from pillar to post, they may become non-attenders.

"The same pattern that occurred with their parents could reoccur.

"They're not wanted, they don't get an education, they stop going to school.

"And if they have no more education after 10, you won't have the average education adults should have in these times and that's criminal."

Some Gypsies and Travellers feel that the planning system is weighted against them.

Inside Out spoke to Tewkesbury Council which believes that it is doing enough to accommodate the travellers' needs, as Chris Shaw explains:

Chris Shaw
Chris Shaw says the council is doing everything to help

"Education may suffer. And I think that's regrettable. But the responsibility falls on the travelling show people.

"It's their responsibility to comply with planning laws like it's everybody else.

"We have 70 per cent of the County's gypsies and travellers.

"This borough has three public sites and a number of private sites so many people in the borough say we have done our bit and it's time for other districts to take their share of making accommodation available for families such as these."

But Sarah Spencer from the Commission for Racial Equality believes that more could be done by local authorities:

"There is a constant cycle of evictions that's estimated to cost around £18 million so it would be much more sensible to provide legal sites for people to live in."

Since our filming the family has been granted permission to live on the site until Spring 2008.

So for now at least, Shannon's education is secure.

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