CATRIONA STEWART looks at the work being done to help the families become part of the local community...
At Annette Street Primary School the teachers work overtime to make sure every child has the best possible education.
More than 10 languages are spoken and the staff have had to cope with an influx of more than 115 new Roma pupils.
Headteacher Sheila Taylor says pupils have welcomed their new classmates -- and the primary is making huge steps to help them adjust to life in Govanhill.
Sheila said: “About five years ago we started getting children from Slovakia in little groups but four years ago we took 30 children in one week.
“There were no schools for us to contact to ask about their education levels because they hadn’t been at school. All the class teachers were brilliant and rose to the challenge.”
From three pupils, the number of Roma children has swelled to 50% of the school’s 234 pupils. At first, Annette Street Primary brought in interpreters to chat to parents at breakfast clubs before classes. Later two temporary staff were hired; an Additional Language teacher and a Slovak support worker.
Sheila, who is due to retire at Christmas after 22 years at the school, says the first challenge was boosting attendance.
The fact they are often segregated in their home countries and put in special needs schools also makes Roma people suspicious of authority.
Sheila said: “Attendance is really bad among these children. They’ll come one day and then they’re not back for a few days.
“We went out to visit them in their homes. We explained what was expected of them and what we could do for their children.
The school’s breakfast club was advertised and attracted children with their parents, giving staff a chance to meet pupils and their families. Then, instead of sending home letters to Roma families who cannot read English, support workers went to pupils’ homes to pass on messages.
Information is traditionally spread by word-of-mouth in Roma communities so the ploy, Sheila says, worked very well.
She said: “Pupils are now attending really, really well and doing well in class on their own. We are beginning to make inroads and now parents are starting to make an effort to inform us when they will be taking their child away from class.
“We held an arts extravaganza which involved every child in the school. We held it in the local church and every seat was full -- they were standing at the back. It was a great day.”
In fact, Sheila’s progress with young Roma children has been cited as one of the draws for Roma people to the area.
Parents say they have heard about the warm welcome their youngsters receive at Annette Street and travel to Govanhill so they can attend the school. Sheila said: “It’s amazing to think the children come here just to attend our school, it’s flattering to know that what we do is appreciated.
“I think it’s great for our children. They just adapt to whatever culture comes along: Malaysian, Libyan, Pakistani, they are all welcomed and respected.”
And at the Daisy Street Neighbourhood centre, a weekly youth group is also helping young Roma people to fit in to their new lives in Scotland. Social worker Katarina Simonovicova, originally from Slovakia, and youth worker Kum Kum Nayjar run the Thursday night social group.
Katarina believes cultural differences are the main cause of distrust between the Roma and indigenous populations.
A Roma teen, who asked not to be named, said: “We feel here the same as we feel in our own country; afraid and worried. When I first went to school I was scared. I started crying and went home.
“I haven’t attended school for a really long time.”
But Katarina thinks progress is being made with thanks to Annette Street and the youth group, which Kum Kum started in 2007.
It gives young people a safe place to come and speak to social workers.
She added: “If we work together as a community we can give the Roma a better life in Scotland.”