At the sting of an Essex village sits a main college not like every other within the UK. Only a handful of its youngsters will ever go on to secondary college and a few of the pupils will disappear for weeks or months at a time. Yet hardly anyone needs to speak about it. Why?
For a long time the first college in Crays Hill was on the coronary heart of village life.
Then got here Dale Farm, which grew to turn into Europe’s largest traveller web site. Increasing numbers of youngsters from the location – a few of it legally developed, a few of it illegally – joined the varsity.
The shifting pupil combine got here to a head in 2004, when the then head trainer and 10 members of the governing physique stop amid considerations at falling pupil numbers and the way the varsity would fare sooner or later.
It was additionally the 12 months youngsters from settled households evaporated. Completely.
By the tip of 2004, not a single baby from the settled group of Crays Hill was left. All pupils have been from traveller households.
Today, the varsity remains to be going and going robust, in line with Ofsted, which just some months in the past praised the “good quality of education” supplied by this “well-organised and welcoming school”.
And but barely anyone appears to need to speak about this village college.
At least in public.
Crays Hill Primary in numbers
- There have been 52 pupils on the roll when the BBC visited
- In 2014-15, 15 fixed-term exclusions have been recorded
- The college will get an additional £73,920 this 12 months in pupil premium funds, which is extra funding for colleges geared toward elevating the attainment of deprived pupils. Seventy-five per cent of Crays Hill pupils are eligible for the premium in contrast with a nationwide main college common of about 25%
- In 2015-16 the unauthorised absence charge was 17.6%. A decade in the past it was 24.2%. The nationwide college common is 1.1%.
Source: Department for Education
All 4 members of the native parish council – together with a former governor on the college – have been requested concerning the college. None responded.
Former dad and mom – together with one of many final to take away her youngsters from the varsity again in 2004 – wouldn’t discuss it both. One, whose youngsters at the moment are youngsters, advised the BBC she felt there have been “more important issues” locally.
Emma Nuttall, recommendation and coverage supervisor for the Traveller-support charity Friends, Families and Travellers, stated the varsity and its inhabitants have been the victims of “prejudice”.
“There will be others in similar situations,” she stated. “Would they dare to raise the issue if the majority of the pupils were Asian or black? I think not.”
But in Crays Hill there are robust emotions on either side.
Not a single traveller guardian would enable their baby to speak about their college on digital camera or enable their youngsters’s faces to be photographed. The cause, it seems, have been considerations of a backlash towards their households amid a row close by over unlawful growth on the close by Hovefield web site.
Yet past this obvious wall of silence lies a hive of exercise, during which youngsters are youngsters and lecturers face a each day juggling act they are saying is just about not like the rest within the English training system.
In one class you’ll discover youngsters studying, drawing and doing craft work. In one other, you would possibly discover youngsters finding out classical mythology.
Tasked with inventing their very own creatures, one lady had give you a half man/half snake monster. But she laughed at her personal creation when she realised a snake with legs carefully resembled a lizard or a dinosaur.
“I think I might start again,” she joked.
She is one in every of 52 pupils at present on the varsity roll.
Fifty are from traveller households. That two pupils are from the settled group is in itself a big change.
For head trainer Hayley Dyer, any politics surrounding her college stays strictly outdoors the inexperienced iron gates.
Her function, and that of her employees, is to do their finest for any baby who comes by way of the doorways.
Yes, she is conscious of how her college is perceived by some.
“There have been some people who had a particular view of the school and who have had a particular view of some of our children,” she says.
And she is a realist concerning the considerations any settled household may need about enrolling their baby at her college.
“The mix is so small,” she says. “But if more parents came and more children came, that mix would be better and which would in turn lessen the need for those considerations.”
Mrs Dyer, who joined as deputy head 9 years in the past, is equally upfront concerning the specific challenges her employees face.
Some pupils can disappear for every week, a month or a 12 months at a time.
Fluctuating headcounts make planning the varsity funds, that are based mostly on headcounts (census days) taken on a single day thrice a 12 months, a bit of tough.
“Looking forward into the future is very difficult. The biggest absence, I think, has been for two years. They had been abroad.”
Crays Hill shouldn’t be a college that fits all lecturers.
While discovering the varsity supplied a “good quality of education”, Ofsted additionally famous in its January report that “a new deputy head teacher was appointed and has since left” and advised how “four teachers have left and three have joined the school”.
“It is either a job you thrive in or you think ‘it is not for me’,” says Mrs Dyer. “People will very quickly decide which one they are when they start teaching.”
It can be a college the place only a few youngsters at Crays Hill will go on to secondary training.
That state of affairs was made worse final 12 months after one in every of Crays Hill’s high former pupils was killed on the A127.
Joseph Sheridan, 13, was strolling throughout the twin carriageway when he was hit by a BMW which had no time to cease.
Referring to him as “our Joseph”, Mrs Dyer stated: “He had been with us from age 4 till 11 and was doing nice in secondary college (on the close by The Bromfords School).
“He was such an envoy for his group.”
The impression of his demise on the travelling group was that “all people felt they needed to maintain on tighter to their youngsters”.
It was not the primary troublesome time for the varsity.
The evictions of 80 traveller households from their illegally-built houses at Dale Farm 5 years in the past was a interval of “excessive anxiousness” for the varsity group.
The management supplied by the then head trainer Sulan Goodwin was nothing in need of “superb”, says Mrs Dyer,
“It was a troublesome time for workers realizing that a few of their youngsters have been affected.
“What we tried to do was to proceed with regular college.
“There was excessive anxiousness at the moment and it was positively troublesome.
“We wanted to make sure there was some firm ground beneath their feet. It was really important.”
The college misplaced a lot of youngsters following the evictions and so the roll numbers at the moment don’t justify single 12 months teams.
Instead, the inhabitants is split into three – basis and 12 months ones, 12 months twos, threes and fours after which a remaining class grouping of years 5 and 6. This distillation of the inhabitants leaves an eerie silence hanging over the unused rooms of the varsity, which was constructed, within the early 20th Century, to accommodate greater than 150 pupils.
The college day begins with early-morning actions, akin to studying or doing jigsaws and, as soon as the precise college day begins, pupils do 15 minutes of targeted studying adopted by 15 minutes of handwriting.
For the remainder of the morning, youngsters then transfer into different teams, sorted not by age however by studying capability.
It means pupils get extra related instructing.
Malcolm Buckley, the previous chief of Basildon Council and who at present serves as a county councillor for the realm, needs households from the settled group to see what Crays Hill has to supply.
And he believes a rebalancing of the traveller and settled group at Crays Hill is inevitable.
“We have extreme pressure on primary school places in Basildon so the schools which have places in them will have to be used,” he stated.
“The other thing is that the school has been classified as a good school and (settled) parents can have much more confidence in it than they appear to have.”
He stated he understood group reluctance surrounding the varsity as a result of “you only get one shot at a child’s education” and “if you get it wrong” it may have a “lasting impact”.
The college’s rising relationship with the broader group, which incorporates a lot of exterior teams utilizing the premises, is significant, he stated.
And though the parish council wouldn’t talk about its proposals to renew holding its conferences on the college, Mr Buckley stated that was one thing he want to see.
“When those organisations use the school, actually see it inside and see how it operates, it instils confidence.”
This is music to the ears of Phien O’Reachtigan of the National Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Council, who says what occurred on the college in 2004 was “terrible” and a “disgrace”.
Mr O’Reachtigan believes reintegration will profit all involved.
“Children are not naturally prejudiced,” he stated. “They inherit prejudice from their dad and mom. What occurred in 2004 was a horrible state of affairs, there was no cause for folks to take their youngsters away.
“Friendships have been damaged when the youngsters have been taken away and it has had a long-lasting impression.”
Asked what success appears to be like like at a college like Crays Hill, Mrs Dyer ponders for some time.
A constructive Ofsted report is beneficial, she says, for the varsity’s relationship with the surface world.
But throughout the college, success is extra private. One of the eight pupils collaborating in a dance session is a boy known as Richard.
Watching him dance makes Mrs Dyer smile.
“Sometimes it spoils his afternoon so it’s good to see him having fun with it,” she says.
This form of small triumph, together with enhancements in studying or writing, or examples of wonderful behaviour, are what success appears to be like like at Crays Hill to Mrs Dyer.
“It is these particular person achievements which can be most treasured.”
Teaching travellers by: Farah Grimm published: