Sheffield schools struggle to cope with Roma pupil influx

Roma children in Page Hall.
Roma children in Page Hall.
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Schools in north east Sheffield are struggling to access extra funding needed to cope with a major influx of Roma children from Eastern Europe - with at least 2,000 arrivals over the last five years.

The verdict comes in a major national report from inspection watchdog Ofsted, which commissioned an investigation following a meeting with a group of city headteachers.

They reported that the newcomers had made no adverse impact on the achievement of other pupils already settled in school.

But integrating the Roma children has been hampered by the difficulty in getting hold of extra cash to which they were entitled, a shortage of specialist staff and cuts to local authority support services.

Visits were made to three schools affected by the arrivals of mainly Slovakian children - Hinde House Secondary, Whiteways Primary and Wincobank Infants.

Five more responded to a questionnaire, including Fir Vale and Sheffield Park academies, while inspectors also looked at the experiences of schools in Derby and Manchester.

Ofsted found that official figures for the number of Roma children in city schools - 2,100 - were likely to be an underestimate as their families were reluctant to identify themselves for fear of discrimination.

Most Roma families have settled in the Page Hall area, where tensions have been created by their culture of both children and adults spending time out on the streets.

Headteachers expressed fears that the incomers’ low achievement levels would affect their inspection ratings, a factor Ofsted says in future it will take into account.

It was found that some newly arrived Roma pupils had little prior experience of formal education, and so found it difficult to fit in to school routines or meet expectations for good behaviour.

Those who were used to school made good progress, but with almost all new to speaking English their attainment remained low - not one pupil achieved five good GCSE passes in 2012 or 2013.

Ofsted recommends that councils need to appoint a dedicated senior leader to tackle Roma strategies, funding should be more flexible, while schools need to recruit qualified teachers to provide high quality support to pupils.