Examples of good practice on including Romani, disabled and otherwise disadvantaged children into mainstream schools and supporting the inter-communal education of all children will be studied by 10 bureaucrats and representatives of nongovernmental organizations from the Karlovy Vary Region in the British town of Leicester. The five-day visit, from 26 June - 1 July 2012, will be attended by bureaucrats from the Regional Authority responsible for educational and social affairs, a representative of the Sokolov Municipal Authority, staff from the Educational Guidance Center in Cheb, staffs from local elementary and middle schools, and a representative of the Czech School Ministry’s Department of Special Education, Prevention and Institutional Care.
The trip is organized by the Open Society Fund Prague, which concluded an agreement on collaboration with the Karlovy Vary Region in May 2012 on the creation of a regional inclusive education concept. Work on designing the concept involves not just the professionals’ visit to Leicester, but also analysis of and research into the needs of administrators, pupils, and teachers in the region, as well as the development of recommendations leading to the inclusion of disadvantaged children in the mainstream schools. This will concern not only ethnic minority children, but also disabled children and children from poor, socially excluded families.
In the Karlovy Vary region there are 18 socially excluded localities, inhabited by between 3 500 – 4 000 people, and 34 elementary schools. A large proportion of Romani children there end up attending the “practical” schools. According to a 2010 report by the Czech School Inspectorate, 48.5 % of the pupils diagnosed with light mental disability are Romani, the second-highest in the country after Ústí Region, where 53 % of pupils with such diagnoses are Romani. Members of the delegation visiting Leicester should design a first draft of the inclusion strategy for the region after the visit.
The Karlovy Vary delegation will visit several elementary and middle schools in Leicester attended by a higher percentage of Romani children and will discuss with directors and teachers how they work with Romani children and their parents. They will then meet with representatives of the Leicester town hall and Deputy Lord Mayor Abdul Osman, who represents ethnic minorities, to discuss how to support inclusion in education at regional level. Leicester is ethnically diverse and is also the 20th most impoverished town in England. An estimated 2 000 Romani people, predominantly from the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia, live there now, most of whom have sought asylum in Britain.
“Unemployment in Leicester is rather high, but the Romani parents succeed in finding employment here to a greater degree than they do in the Czech Republic. Local schools also devote themselves to the newly arriving Romani children and through the aid of various programs have very successfully included them among the other pupils,” said OSF coordinator Karin Marques as to why Leicester was chosen to visit.
The Babington Middle School, which the Karlovy Vary delegation will visit, includes more than 70 Romani children and has successfully introduced courses of English where all children whose first language is not English are worked with individually. The Northfield House Elementary School organizes an evening school for parents which serves not only as an educational course, but also includes the parents in school affairs.
Open Society Fund Praha started its pilot project on Regional Education Inclusion Concepts in 2011 in order to assist regional authorities in designing strategies for supporting inclusive education in their regions. OSF has already convened three discussion platforms in the Karlovy Vary Region as well as two educational courses attended by around 25 people from all segments of the system supporting the education of children with special educational needs, experts from academia, and the responsible staffers at the Regional Authority. OSF is now developing such collaborations with other regions as well.
“There is a need, at regional level, to develop practical methods for getting Romani children out of the ‘practical’ schools and into the mainstream schools. This is the only way that inclusive education will stop being just an interesting idea on paper and take shape in reality,” says Robert Basch, director of Open Society Fund Praha.