Home BACTA ‘The Show Must Go On’

‘The Show Must Go On’


How and why the Showmen’s Guild and others worked with Pearson Education Ltd. for this very positive book to be produced.

An education in turning a negative into a positive:

In mid-March 2019 there were reports from various parts of the country that there were two books in circulation at primary schools, for the teaching of Phonics to Year 1 & 2 pupils; which had questionable plotlines, showing Showmen, in an unfavourable light; with one book, “dex and the funfair” centring on a fair and the other, “Kat’s great act,  centring on a circus; with divisive and poor-behavioural themes.

It was discovered that these books were part of an imported range and that the publishers, Pearson Education, had not been aware of the content:

Once approached by both the Showmen’s Guild’s then General Secretary Joe Mercer and separately by the Association of Circus Proprietors Secretary, Paul Archer, registering displeasure and concern; the books were withdrawn.

There had also been reference made to OFSTED, by Natalie Stables, Head of Service

At Salford Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service (EMTAS) a

Children’s Services Directorate.

 Natalie, a highly respected educationalist, had been President of  NATT+ ( National Association of Teachers Of Travellers Plus) which served the Showmen’s Community among others, for generations until it lost all its funding in 2018.

The annual meetings of Fairground and Circus Education Liaison Officers from all the associations, along with fairground and circus parents, at Wolverhampton were the highlight of the year, presenting life-line for updating everyone on policy and sharing encouragement and best-practice for the community’s Sections and regions.

Natalie had pledged to continue actively working in Traveller education on a local and regional level and would be more than happy to help, advise and support Showmen, as and when needed.

Living up to this, indeed, Natalie led on this issue, discussing it with OFSTED with the advice to contact individual education authorities, which was  arranged with Directors of Children’s Services.

The Director of Primary Learning Services & Direct to Learner at Pearson UK Schools, Lindsay Nadin, was quick to respond to both the Showmen’s Guild’s and the ACP’s concerns:

  • Lindsay explained that It was not their intention to present the circus and Showmen’s community in a negative light;
  • understanding our point of view on how this could be adversely perceived and
  • agreed that the content did not represent the high standard they set themselves.

Lindsay  reassured us that the books would not be used in the future and removed the two titles from sale on their website

  • However, most importantly and significantly, Lindsay offered that for future titles, they would welcome our input in how they could better represent  Show and circus communities in their materials.
  • Lindsay explained that they are committed to supporting children’s learning about the UK’s diverse population and that their materials should positively embrace such diversity.

Pearson  Education working with the Showmen’s Guild ‘on the ground’:

Taking this forward, following discussions with the Showmen’s Guild Central Office, liaising with Showmen’s Guild President Philip Paris, Pearson Education initially worked with Showmen’s Guild Scottish Section Education Liaison Officer, Christine Stirling:

This also involved the children and teachers of Thorntree Primary School, Glasgow in developing the title; reviewing the book, written by Michelle Russell, whose family spans several generations within the Showmen’s community, as well as Richard O’Neill, a Traditional Travelling person.

In January 2021, Lucy Killick Product Manager at Pearson UK Schools, in Lindsay Nadin’s team got back in touch with an update on the project.

Natalie Stables and Valerie Moody, MBE, offered to review the work that had been achieved during 2019-20 at Pearson’s request.

Valerie Moody MBE is of course the National Education Liaison Officer for the Showmen’s Guild. Apart from her work guiding and mentoring generations of show Children, not least with the seasonal schools at major fairs including Newcastle Town Moor and her lobbying with others many education Ministers and other politicians for 35 years; Valerie has continued to guide and advise, without fanfare, Show families across the nation during the pandemic; in addition to planning to open at fairs with her husband, former Section Chairman Arthur Robert.

Natalie and Valerie assessed the manuscript for the new non-fiction phonics reader for KS1 (Key Stage One)  children, as well as the second proofs of a reader for 7-8 year olds, of above average reading ability. 

Scottish Section ELO, Christine Stirling  had been heavily involved in the latter and had reviewed the manuscript for the phonics reader. Thorntree School in Glasgow had also helped with the book for 7-8 year olds.

The new phonics reader (book)  features illustrations to help to bring it to life.

Natalie and Valerie were impressed:

They reported that there was great feedback from the Traveller Education  co-ordinator of Natalie’s team, Tara Whelan; who knows a lot about the Showmen’s community but also read it with her own daughter to get feedback from the people who matter- the children!

Tara’s daughter, Erin, being a keen fairground goer:

  • really enjoyed learning and understanding the effort that goes into setting up a fair;
  • she has learnt the lengths that Showmen go to all year round to ensure people have fun and are safe.
  • From setting up, pulling down and packing up,
  • to working through the winter fixing and preparing rides and stalls.

The details of this in the story really highlighted, for her, the strong work ethic in the Showmen community.

Tara and her daughter noticed the importance of community and family as well as working together, which “led us to discussing how much fun it would be to have our grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins all living together on one street! “

Erin loved the illustration of the yard (the work of Mitch Miller, throughout the book); it really helped bring the setting to life for her; and made her “envious that her family didn’t live with extended family like that!”

They enjoyed seeing the value of storytelling shown, with Nana’s character in the book, telling Mary-Ann’s character stories about the trinkets in her treasure box and Mary-Ann telling Grandad about her travels, as well as documenting in her scrapbook to share with her teachers.

It was also great to show how skills learnt on the fairground can be transferred and valued within school life, with talk of helping to run the tuck shop and plan the school’s Winter Fair.

 Traveller Education  Co-ordinator, Tara,  appreciated the reference to the Showman’s Guild, showing the legitimacy of the fair, and also the references to the children carrying out distance learning, showing that education is continued when possible on the road.

The part where the newspaper uses ‘roll up, roll up’ as its headline is done tactfully for the young reader to realise that headlines/articles aren’t always an accurate representation of a community.

Tara thought it was positive to have a character from the Showman community who is settled living in a house and works in a hospital,  as it discourages ‘tarring everyone with the same brush’.

Tara also liked how Nana speaks about the history of the Travelling Showmen in schools and libraries,  (no doubt taking a leaf out of Valerie Moody’s ‘book’!) as well as sharing how they were rightfully given their land, had lived there for generations and worked hard making it a home.

They liked how by the end, the whole community had been brought together, laughing & sharing stories of their time at the fairground.

Everyone realised the ‘junk’ in this ‘junkyard’  (referred to in the story) was not the ‘eyesore’ they had hurtfully labelled it, but it was actually items and treasures that formed precious memories of their own childhoods.

They reported that, all in all, they really enjoyed it; and can’t wait to be able to get back to a fairground!

This positive feedback was then passed on to the authors Michelle Russell and Richard O’Neill,

Natalie Stables also  shared the manuscript of the book with the GRT Northern co-ordinators for further feedback.

In May 2020, Pearson were reaching the stage when The Show Must Go On was nearly ready to be sent off to the printers:

which they said, living up to the book’s title, was “very exciting…”

This included  drafting the marketing description for the book that will feature on the Pearson and Amazon product pages (within Pearson’s ‘Bug Club’ strand of publications / products.  (see below)

Kirsty and Della from the Pearson Marketing Team worked on the launch of this title, liaising with the Showmen’s Guild…



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