A quarter of children from Slovak Roma background have been excluded from Sheffield schools — after daily harassment from fellow students
by Felicity Collier
A QUARTER of children from the Slovak Roma community in Sheffield have been excluded from schools because of the effect of xenophobic bullying, a shocking new report found yesterday.
Department for Education figures show that out of 567 pupils in the city whose characteristics are “white Gypsy/ Roma,” a huge 148 were excluded from schools in 2015.
Education expert Chris Searle, who produced the report in conjunction with the Institute of Race Relations, said that the excluded children had experienced “intense provocation” and “they resist it.”
In his report, Mr Searle interviewed children from the Slovak Roma community about their experiences and found that they were harassed, bullied and “provoked on a daily basis by fellow students.”
He said: “Teaching alienated, estranged and ‘provoked’ children is never easy but is entirely necessary and part of the essential remit of a serious teacher.
“The issue as far as the children are concerned is derogatory, racist comments from other children.”
When students are excluded from schools they are placed at local education authority exclusion centres, but Mr Searle said some of the children receive “similar treatment” and are then excluded again.
To make matters worse, cuts to legal aid mean that parents can no longer afford to challenge expulsions.
The situation was worsened by government changes to exclusion guidelines made in January 2015. Then-education secretary Nicky Morgan announced that conduct deemed to be “detrimental to the education or welfare of others” would be sufficient to have a child excluded by the headteacher, resulting in speedier permanent expulsions.
Sheffield Council acting director for children and families Dawn Walton said: “We are concerned about the numbers of exclusions of Roma schoolchildren and we work in close partnership with our primary and secondary schools to continually improve provision for all children to prevent exclusion.
“We do understand some schoolchildren need extra support and we are working closely to achieve this.”
But Mr Searle voiced despair that children from the Slovak Roma community are “conceived of as bottom of the pile, because they are the newest arrivals in Sheffield.”
Members of the Yemeni and Pakistani communities in Sheffield have responded by running lessons at Attercliffe community centre, where children receive lessons in English and maths.
Mr Searle described their efforts as a “tremendous job,” stating that none of the children placed there have had to be excluded due to the “support” received.
In his report, Mr Searle emphasised that one of the most serious consequences of exclusion for the children is their segregation from peers from other communities.
Mr Searle said that in 50 years of teaching and headteaching across the world, including Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Mozambique, East London, Grenada, Sheffield and Manchester, he has “never encountered such outright, blatant and unacknowledged institutional racism in education.”
Responding to the mass exclusions, Labour’s local MP Gill Furniss pledged to seek an urgent meeting with the council’s executive director of children, young people and families Jayne Ludlam and cabinet member councillor Jackie Drayton.
The Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP told the Star: “I am both shocked and alarmed to see the figures in this report from Chris Searle regarding the exclusion of Roma children within Sheffield.
“It is absolutely essential that Roma children are treated fairly and equally. It is also vitally important that these children are given the appropriate support to enable them to reach their potential and become valued members of our community.”
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