Education

Lontano is dedicated to providing valuable music experiences for children and adults in East and South East London. We aim to reach the most deprived and isolated communities, bringing people together through the creation and performance of original music.

“The boost of confidence the children gained from the project led to raised self- esteem, discipline and helped to give rise to their social and academic skills…we would request that our school be considered for this development project again as a result of the positive impact it had on our pupils”

Connections logo

Our flagship education programme, Connections, has been running since 2011 with the aim of celebrating Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) music and culture. We work with children across London as well as musicians of Gypsy Roma Traveller heritage in order to encourage community cohesion amongst people of all background. The video below gives some background on the project.

“By learning about the GRT Culture in greater depth through the music project work, I believe our pupils will be empowered to break down barriers and learn to value all people regardless of their background”

Ofsted has reported that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have the lowest results of any ethnic minority group and are the group most at risk in the education system. Connections is a music education project exploring Gypsy Roma and Traveller cultures through creative music workshops. The aims of the project are:

  • To offer an opportunity for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and their families to see their culture recognised and celebrated in school, creating a positive school environment.
  • To encourage intercultural understanding and interaction between people of Gypsy Roma and Traveller heritage and the wider community.
  • To create opportunities for professional, amateur and aspiring musicians from different musical traditions to collaborate, create and perform together.Students will work closely with musicians and dancers to create and perform their own original works which they will perform together at a local public venue.

“[Positive aspects of the project include]: Children’s enthusiastic involvement in music making; children’s ability to learn traditional songs as well as collaboratively compose their own words for new songs; children’s interest in finding out about GRT history and culture through song, music and story”.

Highlights of our previous education work

In 2010/11, Connections worked in Southwark where Juwon Ogungbe led workshops in four schools leading to performances in The Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green. Elizabeth Hills, Headteacher of Phoenix and Ilderton Primary School commented: “music is a great way of reaching and bringing together children from all backgrounds. When they are young children seem to have a wide taste in music. They need an introduction to many different cultures and genres of music.”

In 2012/13, we worked closely with Sue Mutter and eight schools in Redbridge leading to a performance at the Kenneth Moore Theatre and as part of the Olympic Torch Relay celebrations at Ilford Town Centre. Ian Bennett, Headteacher at Downshall Primary School commented: “The boost of confidence the children gained from the project led to raised self-esteem, discipline and helped to give rise to their social and academic skills…we would request that our school be considered for this development project again as a result of the positive impact it had on our pupils”

In 2014/15 involved a series of assemblies on GRT music and culture delivered in Southwark schools. Sarah Logan, music coordinator at Ivydale Primary commented: “Children absolutely loved seeing and hearing the LIVE music (and teachers!) It was fabulous. They were also really interested in hearing about the background and history of the Romas.”

Other education work includes “An Olympiad of Sweet Sounds” which involved ten schools in Waltham Forest and culminated in two performances, one of which was part of the Leytonstone Arts Festival. Mayor Geoff Walker commented on this event: “The concerts were also a testament to the hard work and commitment of the people involved in Lontano projects.” Moreover, John Yates-Harrold, Deputy Head of Jenny Hammond Primary School remarked, “I know they will look back at the end of the project feeling valued, musically and creatively fulfilled and immensely proud of all they have achieved.”

Other work has included ‘Blue Sky’, a 2009 project with 100 Macedonian graduating students, and work with secondary and tertiary schools in Argentina in 2006.

Information on GRT in Redbridge

We have chosen Redbridge as one focus of our work because it is one of the most diverse and deprived areas in the country, and also has a significant number of residents of GRT heritage. South Ilford, and particularly Hainault and Uphall where a lot of our work takes place, is noted by the council as an area suffering disproportionate levels of deprivation. In 2009, 27% of households in Hainault earned less than £20,000 pa, it had the highest level of unemployment in the borough (19.9%), highest number of people with a long-term illness (23%) and was in the worst 20% of wards in England in terms of child deprivation[1]. Moreover, in 2009 rates of BME residents in Redbridge stood at 48.1%[2], compared to an average of 9% in England and 29% in London. Within this diversity there also exists a sizeable GRT population. It is difficult to state precisely the size of the GRT community since many members hide their identity due to a fear of discrimination, however the 2011 census identified 54,895 people of GRT heritage living in England, equating to 0.1% of the total population. In Redbridge, children identifying as Roma count for 0.3% of the primary population and 0.2% of the secondary population respectively, of which 90% identify as speaking Romany or Romani International as their first language. The GRT population is thus a small but significant minority in the borough of Redbridge.

Sue Mutter is the London Borough of Redbridge School Improvement Advisory Teacher for GRT Education and Ethnic Minority Achievement, and has worked with GRT children and parents for over 15 years supporting schools with inclusion and engagement strategies. Consultation with Sue and GRT community groups has revealed considerable tension between the GRT community and other communities within Redbridge. The reasons for this are complex, but some key factors include a lack of communication between different groups leading to suspicion, mistrust and a lack of respect for differing cultural practices. As the Equalities and Human Rights Commision’s 2009 report states, “racism towards most ethnic minority groups is now hidden, less frequently expressed in public, and widely seen as unacceptable. However, that towards Gypsies and Travellers is still common, frequently overt and seen as justified”[3]. More broadly and across the UK, GRT experience disproportionate levels of unemployment leading to poverty, destitution and homelessness (Roma Support Group, 2015). The Council of Europe states that Roma life expectancy is 8-16 years lower than average, and rates of infections and chronic disease much higher (Ibid)

Against this backdrop, many GRT families encourage their children to hide their cultural identity and believe school to be irrelevant and dangerous. “Passing” or concealing one’s identity is a concept well-established among all GRT communities. Jake Bowers, a Romani journalist, has written, “most Gypsy and Traveller kids can tell you exactly what a cloak of secrecy feels like. It allows you to keep your head down and pass by unnoticed”[4]. In educational terms concealing identity can limit social relationships and inclusion, and prevent children from sharing aspects of their identity and culture.

Due to a combination of racist bullying, discrimination, cultural and social isolation, as well as family pressure, mobility and lack of support, children of GRT heritage habitually underperform at school. Children and young people with GRT heritage are the lowest achievers in school at all key stages, surpassing all other ethnic groups in terms of free school meals, ‘looked after children’ in terms of absence, exclusion, SEN and secondary school drop out[5]. More broadly, a Mori poll commissioned by Stonewall in 2001, found that although most interviewees had no personal contact with Travellers and Gypsies, these groups (along with Asylum seekers) were found to be the subject of aggressive prejudice as well as open and explicit animosity, often backed with the threat of violence[6].

Connections brings together pupils from different schools in a way that promotes fellowship and builds trust, and will integrate those from a variety of backgrounds. It will encourage them to explore and celebrate their own heritage, as well as introducing them to each other’s cultural backgrounds. It will combat stereotyping by showing the children that your ethnic and cultural background need not restrict your own appreciation of music, and provide them with positive role models from all sectors of the community. It will provide an opportunity for non-verbal expression, especially valuable for the children with special needs and those not fluent in English, and bring children together with their parents in a creative activity. The project will furthermore alleviate the effects of poverty and deprivation by providing arts education and experience, including the experience of working alongside professional musicians, to children who would otherwise be denied these opportunities, uncovering hidden talents and building their self-confidence and self-belief. We feel it is important that the children have as much input as possible into the project, musical and otherwise, as this will encourage them to develop a sense responsibility as well as creativity. Finally, the project will promote interest in the local community, building community identity and cohesion.

Discrimination against GRT is described as the “last respectable form of racism” (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2004), and we believe that by tackling the most overt signs of discrimination we can create a more cohesive Redbridge.

To build our project we have consulted with:

– Sue Mutter, Advisory teacher, GRT and EAL Redbridge Council

– Claire Barnes and Mike O’ Hanlon, Redbridge Children’s Services

– Eric Forder, Redbridge Music Services

– Cecilia Rufus and David Landau, Redbridge Racial Equalities Council

– Rita Chadha, RAMFEL (Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex)

– John Ward, Diversity Manager Redbridge Council

– Lorna Mitchell, Redbridge Family & Social Services

– Councillor Ryan, Redbridge Arts Portfolio

– Interagency GRT meetings in Redbridge, Newham, Southwark and Greenwich

– Romany Diamonds, a Roma music group including members Ben, Sindy and Marik Czureja

– Tania Gessi and Dragica Felja – Roma Support Group

– Bobbi Sullivan, Fiddlers & Co, Redbridge youth string ensemble

– Louise Kanolik, LRC Schools Manager, Loxford School

– Members of Plaistow Christian Church (a Roma church), questionnaires showed 21/25 did not feel connected to other Londoners and suggested music, singing and dance to promote communication

Unfortunately, due to cuts some of the people with whom we have consulted are now no longer in these positions.

[1] http://tinyurl.com/m48snl4

[2] http://tinyurl.com/mvjwgd9

[3] http://tinyurl.com/kxednos

[4] Hiding to nothing, in Traveller Times at www.travellerstimes.org.uk, 2008

[5] Department for Education and Skills, Ethnicity and Education: the evidence on Minority Ethnic Pupils aged 5 – 16, 2005

[6] Profiles of Prejudice. The nature of prejudice in England: in-depth analysis of findings (Stonewall/MORI, n.d. [2003]. Preface by Sir Herman Ouseley.)