It is important to highlight e-safety when it comes to traveller or fairground children, who depend on ICT to keep up with their education. Roger Feltham hightlights the success of Surrey County Council’s e-safety programme

Today’s digital generation has a wealth of opportunities to exploit through the application of ICT, both within the school environment and at home. However, although technology opens countless doors for children and young people, there are also aspects that prove a significant risk. The potential dangers should not be overlooked and range from students accessing inappropriate internet sites to the threat of cyberbullying, and in its most extreme form, predator grooming.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for local authorities and schools is to promote the advantages of technology while simultaneously encouraging students to use it in a safe and responsible manner, and also equipping them to deal with any situation that may arise. From an educational perspective, it is the responsibility of the local authority in partnership with the schools and together with the support of the parents, to ensure the protection of students while using ICT at school. As one would imagine, this is a highly complex and sensitive area to tackle, and the complexity increases further for groups that fall outside mainstream education, such as Traveller children.

Due to their lifestyle (see box), Traveller children are unable to attend school on a daily basis throughout the academic year. Sadly this means that they can be excluded from certain opportunities that other young people may receive, such as access to state-of-the-art technology.

The role of ICT in the education of Traveller children

Traveller children include fairground and circus children, Gypsies, Irish Travellers, new Travellers, and bargees, and are enrolled in schools across England. According to the DCSF, there are over 12,000 Traveller children in primary, secondary and special schools in England alone. This figure relates to those that have officially registered as Travellers. The actual figure is no doubt higher but many children do not like to officially enrol as Travellers owing to the long-standing stigma.

Their way of life is poles apart from that of their fellow classmates. As an example, fairground families have a permanent winter residence where they live from November to Easter. During this period, a large proportion of time is devoted to preparing the equipment for the main season, which often involves repairing and painting the rides. Fairground children generally attend schools in the local areas. Then, the families leave in spring to travel with the fair.

The nature of this lifestyle demands a highly practical approach, and historically these children have devoted more time to learning the ways of the fairground than enhancing their academic abilities. This is now a fundamental concern to the Traveller communities as well as the local authorities and schools that support them.

In Surrey, Traveller Education Support is a county-wide team of teachers and field officers. It covers all 11 boroughs and districts with the county. We help schools by offering advice, teaching support and home/school links so that schools can meet the needs of Traveller pupils, as well as working with other agencies to raise awareness of Traveller culture and address prejudiced views.

Contrary to common belief, a large number of fairground families are eager for their children to be educated and as a result, participation in distance learning schemes is high. For fairground children in Surrey, a learning pack linked to the National Curriculum is tailored to individual abilities. This consists of a range of activities relevant to the class work missed.

ICT is particularly beneficial for this group because it allows them to remain a valued part of the extended school community, and to retain an element of continuity in their work. Missing out on such an invaluable resource can prove detrimental. This is where distance learning programmes involving technology are so important, as they are highly successful in minimising the effects of discontinuity, in terms of school attendance (see box). However, in the same way that their peers who attend school on a regular basis do, Traveller children must learn how to use technology safely and appropriately.

We aim to enhance the educational provision for fairground students, and recognise that ICT can bring a new perspective to the distance learning scheme. Surrey has over 80 fairground children enrolled in its schools, 30 of which are now involved in a scheme called E-LAMP (E-Learning and Mobility Project), which is funded by the DCSF. Other local authorities that participate in E-LAMP include South Gloucestershire, Bolton and Cambridgeshire. Under this scheme, while students are out of mainstream education, they are assigned laptops, with internet access via a general packet radio service (GPRS) data card. This process allows constant contact with the children, and allows them to stay in touch with teachers and friends throughout the year.

It has been possible to secure significant benefits since implementation. For instance, students exchange emails with teachers and schools; work is sent and received electronically; teacher feedback is provided relatively quickly; students access websites to help with their studies and complete projects. Email messaging in particular has proved highly valuable for feedback, encouragement and support, and has strengthened a sense of ‘belonging’ for the fairground students.

Benefits of e-safety solutions:

  • more effective than internet blocking alone
  • reduces the level of ICT misuse
  • helps raise e-safety standards
  • improves classroom behaviour and attendance
  • curbs cyberbullying
  • increases staff morale
  • detects, records and reports any ICT misuse
  • highlights potentially harmful situations
  • helps meet government guidelines
  • protects the ICT network
  • reassures parents and governors that students are safe at school
  • supports anti-bullying policies and pastoral care.

Furthermore this scheme allows other members of the family to use the laptops. An advantage of this is that it encourages the parents to play an active role in their child’s education, and to embrace technology, a phenomenon that is largely alien to this group.

E-safety responsibility
The E-LAMP scheme has generated the issue of where responsibility for e-safety falls. Is it with the local authority, the school, or the parents? The parents have chosen to educate their children out of school during this time, so does the responsibility of care lie with them? However, the laptop is the property of the council and the students are enrolled with the school. So who is responsible?

Ensuring the safety of students while they use technology is a shared responsibility. As a local authority it was important that we developed and followed best practice in safeguarding students under our care.

ICT is an integral part of teaching and learning, therefore schools and local authorities have a responsibility to educate students on the safe use of technology and to provide protection from the associated dangers. 

In the early stages, blocking was contemplated. However, we realised that this was ineffective as it can restrict learning; something which we did not want to do. During our search the Looked-after Children department in Surrey County Council adopted Securus, a computer monitoring solution on its desktops. As a result of the department’s recommendation, Traveller Education Support implemented this solution, which has been in place now for three years.

Monitoring the online and offline activity of fairground children is vital and exceptionally valuable for distance learning. We are able to track unacceptable words and images, so alerts are received if the students use bullying or threatening behaviour, or access inappropriate sites. This is something which I am pleased to report is very rare. Unfortunately bullying and prejudice is endemic in their everyday lives, which is why it is so important to keep track of their activity. In terms of the more alarming issues, it is even possible to receive early warning of harmful situations such as signs of depression or suicide, predator grooming, or racial harassment.

Students can be exposed to danger either online, using the internet, or offline in applications such as Word. The most common breach in schools is the uploading and/or viewing of unsuitable material, so we have to be mindful that this may well be the same for fairground children. This may be material that includes personal details, is hateful or violent in nature, encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal, is pornographic or simply unsuitable for a particular age group.

With fairground children, it is essential that we are able to discriminate between acceptable and unacceptable use. Fairground children often spend time on the internet viewing other fairgrounds, so shooting galleries are often flagged up. This would be a cause for concern if it were a breach that students in mainstream education were committing. However, given the context, we know it is entirely innocent.

Monitoring software is being recognised by the Government as an important element of an effective e-safety strategy. For this strategy to be successful, all the stakeholders in a child’s education must be involved in its development and implementation, from the headteacher and governors to staff, parents, and the students themselves. Consequently, establishing full awareness and buy-in of e-safety is paramount.

The relationship that has been built up with the parents is remarkable. In instances where violations of acceptable use are detected, contact is firstly made with the parents. They could of course be anywhere within the UK or even in Europe, so they deal with the incident at this stage. For parents, this entire process provides reassurance by reducing concerns about e-safety risks and makes them feel more comfortable with their children using technology.

Noticeable results
Since Traveller Education Support implemented the computer monitoring solution there have been no major issues, only a handful of minor concerns. All students love to push the boundaries and fairground children are no exception, but sometimes this means they put themselves or others at risk.

The joy of this solution is that it highlights so many issues. For example, it detected that one of the students under my remit had viewed a friend’s Bebo page. Unsuitable images and personal information such as name, date of birth, school and so on had been uploaded. I contacted this child’s school and the child protection officer, to inform them of the danger that this young person was unintentionally putting themself in. This situation highlights how young people can unknowingly place themselves in danger and how such information can easily fall into the wrong hands. The fairground students are fully aware of this monitoring process, and it has certainly proved to be a powerful incentive for them to use ICT in a safe way.

Surrey County Council has successfully worked towards achieving good practice in safeguarding fairground children while using ICT. All children and young people should be able to achieve their potential, whatever their ethnic and cultural background. Other schools and local authorities will want to learn from what has worked in the past, and Surrey County Council’s approach has certainly been a renowned success.

We have a clear understanding of the unique needs of this group, and what technology can and cannot offer to support their needs. We have certainly used ICT innovatively and effectively to enhance access to learning for fairground children, and hope that other local authorities can benefit from our achievements.

Roger Feltham is operational manager for Traveller Education Support at Surrey County Council
For further information on e-safety solutions visit www.securus-software.com or telephone 01932 255480.

We are unable to publish reader comments about individual child protection concerns on this website. If you are worried about a child please call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for help and advice. Alternatively you can contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) through your local council.

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