Over the past year, The Portal Trust has helped to support the GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) Learning Mentor role at Oxford Gardens Primary School in North Kensington.
Since its conception in 2018, Terry King has carried out the role and has built a strong relationship with the children, parents and school over the years.
We met with Terry to discuss his role and the difference it has made for the children.
As a GRT Learning Mentor, Terry helps to provide additional support to children from GRT communities at the school with all aspects of their school life. In particular, he works closely to help improve their attendance, attainment, behaviour, social and emotional development and parental engagement.
The role was specifically developed as a result of travellers of Irish Heritage ‘having the highest rates of persistent absenteeism of any ethnic group’ and making up 86% of excluded pupils at the school – something which has since reduced to zero due to Terry’s involvement.
Terry begins each day by collecting the children from the site and bringing them to school. When he initially started, only a few children would be waiting each morning, however now Terry collects significantly more pupils along with two other members of staff.
Having worked closely with the parents and students to develop a good relationship, Terry is able to come on and off the site frequently and is trusted to take the children to school. As a result, the children’s attendance has dramatically improved, with all except one currently attending school every day.
Within school time, Terry provides tailored support to the children, depending upon their specific needs. In particular, he has been completing a reading programme with the students, as many have speech and language difficulties or struggle to read at home. This programme has been fantastic and worked really well; some of the children who were previously ‘very negative about their own ability, now absolutely love reading.’
Additionally, Terry provides positive incentives for all the children to help keep them engaged and motivated. ‘The children have rewards sessions every week if they’ve met all their targets – their reading targets, for example. If they have, they get to do something fun like baking, cooking or sports projects… It’s important to keep everything interesting and fun, otherwise they won’t want to come in, so I’m always finding new ways to keep them motivated.’
For the cooking activities, Terry has also been doing ‘a lot of work on healthy eating and trying out new foods’. For example, the children make healthy snacks such as smoothies and several of the younger children have started to enjoy trying a wider range of fruits and vegetables.
‘The children have really integrated with their peers. On the playground, they would rarely associate with the other children and only played together outside. Now they’ve completely integrated.’Terry King
GRT Learning Mentor at Oxford Gardens Primary School
Terry’s relationship with the parents has also been particularly vital to providing more support to the children, as many did not receive support when they were in school or spend much time in education themselves. Many of the children’s parents now have a much better understanding of the schooling system and feel much more comfortable participating in parent’s evenings, assemblies or special occasion days with Terry.
‘The parents want to come in and feel more confident and comfortable too. The work the school has done with the Traveller community is amazing. It really works and has helped change their views on what they want for their families – they want their children to have this additional support.’
Communication has also significantly increased as a result of Terry’s role. ‘I’m constantly talking with the parents over WhatsApp. I send voice notes on whether it’s a non-uniform day, school trip or if the kids are going swimming. It’s really increased the communication.’
‘If a child does a good piece of work during school, I’ll take a quick pic and send it to the parents so when they pick them up they can say they saw it and talk about the good things they did that day.’
Terry emphasised in particular how this relationship has helped to improve continuity in learning for the children.
‘We know they’re different and we let them know that. The parents used to be so reluctant to tell us they were all going away so we would have to call up everyone, including Nan or Grandad, to try and find out where they were. Now when we know they’re going away, we can send the kids work to do so they can continue to engage with learning offsite.'
Overall, the GRT Learning Mentor role has also had a visible impact upon the children’s integration with their peers during lunchtimes. ‘The children have really integrated with their peers. On the playground, they would rarely associate with the other children and only played together outside. Now they’ve completely integrated.
We were delighted to meet with Terry and learn about the important impact his role is having on learning, engagement and integration for children from GRT communities at the school.
We are very proud to support his role at Oxford Gardens and are happy to share the positive difference it has made during GRT History Month 2022.
If you’d like to learn more about GRT History Month, make sure to check out the Friends, Families and Travellers website.