The Association of Circus Parents looks to the future

2012 AGM at Birmingham

10 February 2012

By Desmond FitzGerald

The Circus Parents Association AGM took place as part of the annual Education Conference, hosted by ‘The National Association of Teachers of Travellers + Other Professionals’ (‘NATT+’) at the Paragon Hotel, Birmingham on Sunday 29th January.

Taking part were Circus Parent, Carol Gandey, Director of Gandey World Class Productions; Sylvie Parkes, European Network for Traveller Education (ENTE) Steering Committee and Helen Hatt, with Amanda Murdoch, Education Liaison Officers (ELOs) for the Association of Independent Showmen (AIS).

Delegates groupshot

Click here to see who the delegates are

Many Circus Parents were unavailable to attend the meeting with work and circus festival commitments. There were colleagues from the Fairground ELOs who joined the meeting with advice and support. This process was agreed to be formalised for next year’s AGM with closer working in-between to share information against the backdrop of the changed education climate that currently exists. There were seen to be parallel issues and concerns in the current education system to be shared and the mutual support and assistance would be beneficial to all.

Carol Gandey spoke for many, when she expressed overall concern that the fairly new Department for Education “have so many policies that they miss the people.”

To boost the advice available to Circus Parents, the AIS have adopted Sylvie Parkes, who chaired previous years’ NATT+ conference, as their Education Adviser, for their members. In the UK, the CPA is now interested in participating in the European initiative on education.

There was further good news from Circus Parent and Association of Circus Proprietors (ACP) member Carol Gandey: the ACP members agreed at their recent meeting just three days previously, to remind artistes and staff on members’ shows that the CPA exists to assist them in educating their children.

Carol also discussed her role with Circus Proprietors both in the UK and mainland Europe. This included working with the European Circus Association (ECA) on the education and culture of children. It was observed that there is a more positive approach from the education authorities in government in Europe towards education provision for circus children.

Luckily though, there is a connection between Mainland European initiatives and parents here in the UK via ENTE, with Sylvie Parkes as the UK member.

Speaking of her own personal experiences as a parent, Carol recalled educating her two daughters successfully against the odds. Now aged 27 & 25 years old respectively, both are university graduates. This they achieved despite attending literally hundreds of schools as the family’s shows toured the country during the 1990s and beyond. Carol stressed that their Base School had been positive and supportive though.

This success mirrored that of Carol’s husband, Philip, who himself had passed his A Levels, in years gone by, before going on to be an internationally successful Circus Producer, despite having attended 350 schools as a pupil.

Carol’s current concern was that many of the positive gains in education provision and support, especially from the Traveller Education Services (TESs) over the last few years since her daughters were attending school, has been diminished: “Now it has gone backwards.”

The diminishing of support services and available professionals was predicted at last year’s Education Conference, with the current example of Derbyshire having had a reduction in support teaching from 15 members to one part-timer as a sharp example.

Helen Hatt also expressed concern that nowadays there are an increasing number of schools who won’t accept children on the road from touring shows, with the result that they only have the Base School to fall back on. Helen felt that the NATT+ website was therefore an even more important resource now and a good advisory tool to schools that were encountered on the road, which weren’t up to speed with what they needed to do with visiting circus children. Bolton Primary School was also quoted as an example best working-practice.

Helen added that the Education Conference was seen as is “our once a year hit for information.”

Sylvie Parkes thanked NATT+ for funding the conference otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. The CPA website details and links are of course on the NATT+ website that Liz Haines showed in her presentation to the Conference earlier in the day.

There had been several other vital discussions regarding educating circus children that took place in the Education Conference that were highlighted in the recent overview on page 2 of the World’s Fair.

NATT+’s Joint-President, Linda Lewins spoke of the advance of ‘Academies’ nationally, as part of new government policy and of the changes to the four key areas of inspection by Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills), which look to making it important to take a child’s cultural background (like being from the circus community) into account in the classroom.

Lucy Beckett had earlier introduced herself as an ally to circus parents and associations who represent them; the new All Party Group that she instigated for Gypsy Roma Travellers’, would help to explain the Circus Parents’ needs (despite its name) to seemingly remote MPs. This would, Lucy said in the AGM, extend to the Department for Education (DfE) whose representative had earlier addressed the Conference and who was then briefed on the difference between Circus (with Fairgrounds) and other travelling communities in terms of educational desire and achievement.

Hull-based information technology expert, Paul Wright, showed live demonstrations of the interactive teaching methods: discussing Learning Platforms, with applications to suit pupils, right from the age of four. Following that Leading Education Adviser, Karen Mackay expanded on the On-Line capability for top-grade teaching, either twinned with teaching in person, or used as an alternative, via the internet on the road.

Next year’s AGM was set to follow the various international circus festivals and to take place on Sunday 3rd February 2013; the details of which will be easily able to be communicated to Circus Parents, well in advance in advance at this year’s Circus Reunion, which is being held for a second year at Wookey Hole in November.