TO anyone watching the kids running around in the playground, or listening intently to their teachers, Crays Hill school looks like any other primary in Britain.
But at the tiny Essex school is the only one in the UK where the pupils are almost exclusively from the Traveller community.
The primary, which features in tonight’s episode of Gypsy Kids: Our Secret World, is close to Dale Farm and, out of 52 pupils, 50 are Travellers.
For headteacher Hayley Dyer, that means means constantly fluctuating numbers, as pupils take long absences to travel with their families or work.
It’s also the only UK school where the majority of children won’t go on to secondary school at all.
She said: “Nearly all of our pupils are from the travelling community and numbers vary a lot from week to week to week, from day to day, because obviously our families travel.
“There’s definitely an element of having to be flexible but the kids in this school are great and I suppose having a population of pupils from predominantly one culture can help those pupils feel like school is more inclusive for them.”
By law, Travelling communities are allowed to take children out of school, or move them to other schools, for lengthy periods in the school year.
They are required to attend a school for 200 half-day sessions – 100 days in total – and unlike other children, their absence is marked on the register with a T.
In Crays Hill – which has a “good” rating from Ofsted – the different levels of education means the curriculum goes out the window and classes are organised by ability.
Mrs Dyer adds: “With a transient population of pupils we want to find a position where children can learn to their best so the children are grouped according to their reading ability, regardless of their age. It’s all about meeting individual needs.”
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For nine-year-old English Traveller Paddy Taylor, who lives on the nearby Hovefield settlement, going to school is “stupid.”
Although he is set to follow in his brother Jimmy’s footsteps, and leave at 11 to work in the family business, he would prefer to leave at 10.
He told the Sun Online: “I want to leave at 10 so I can get better money, work for my dad, and join the family business. Paving and tarmacking.
“But I will leave school when I’m 12, at the end of primary. I don’t want to go to secondary school.”
Jimmy, 12, has already left school and is working full-time in the family business but he is seen in the show persuading his brother that he has to stay on to 11.
He told us: “Education is important because when you leave school and you start in a business, and you’re working, you need to learn how to add, do maths and, the main thing, read and write.
“You need to be able to add up numbers and count money. If you don’t get maths you won’t know how to do that stuff.”
But he was adamant he was never going to go on to do GCSEs.
He said: “I don’t like secondary school. We leave at primary school and start work.
“I work full-time and it’s good. It’s hard and you learn a lot, but it’s good.”
Although many Traveller children are bullied at school Paddy says he would actaully prefer to go to school with non-Travellers.
He said: “My school is alright but I prefer a mixed school. I used to go to a mixed school in Romford and it was fine.”
Mum Melissa said Paddy and Jimmy had both attended several schools but had never been bullied.
She said: “It doesn’t bother me if he goes to an all-Traveller school.
“If it was half and half it would be even better because then they have a mixture of everybody.
“My boy’s a good boy. He’s easy to get on with so he gets on well at school. He went to two different schools in Romford, and they liked him there. He never got bullied.”
Paddy, who started driving at eight and has already started to learn paving, says he can learn more away from the classroom in the Traveller “School of life.”
Paddy told the show: “Travellers don’t need school so much because they go out to work at 12. At school you just do ABC, and that’s stupid. I already know it.
“I want to leave school in a year’s time and go and work with my dad. When I leave school my life’s going to be better.
“You learn more out of school than you do in school. In school you have teachers telling you about maths and English and all that but outside of school it’s like the real world.”
Gypsy Kids: Our Secret World continues on Thursdays on Channel 5 at 10pm
Also in this week’s episode, Shannon explained why she wanted to leave school at TEN to cook, clean and keep house.