Local Education Authorities

It was in the 1980’s and 1990s that LEAs (Local Education Authorities) were introduced to broader funding regulations and they had to provide education and welfare to outreach services which include travellers and gypsies, however this was met with prejudices not only from the schools linked to the challenges they faced but from other families and parents because they did not want their children mixing with the children of travellers and gypsies (O’Hanlon & Holmes, p17-18, 2004).

According to the Swann Report in 1985 Travellers children in Briton today face racism, discrimination, myths, stereotyping and misinformation, just as other ethnic minority groups do. This inappropriateness and inflexibility of the education system has a need for better links between homes and schools, teachers and parents. Nationally it has taken over 25 years to establish the current educational opportunities for Gypsy/Roma and Traveller children.

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There is a government initiative called “The Inclusion of Gypsy/ Roma and Traveller Children and Young People”. The initiative aims to use strategies to build confidence in voluntary self-declared ethnicity ascription for Gypsy/Roma and Traveller pupils. The Department for Schools and Families (DCSF) is committed to raising the attendance and achievement of Gypsy/ Roma and Traveller pupils. This publication initiative is aimed at all local authorities and staff in education settings.

It offers guidance and a range of actions which contribute to ensuring that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve and make a positive contribution to school life as set out in Every Child Matters agenda and The Children’s Plan (DCSF 2008). School Census Data Collection covers the groups Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish heritage as they are a distinct ethnic group. Both groups are covered by the Race Relations Act as legitimate ethnic minority communities.

The publication wants all schools and local authorities to acknowledge this fact, so they are aware to the rights and protections under the acts as by all other minority ethnic communities. However the School Census categorisation does not include Fairground, Circus or New Age Travellers and there is a clear need to capture data on all Traveller groups in order that schools can identify these children and families offering all children equal learning opportunities.

One opportunity to be proven a success is e-learning and mobility projects (ELAMP). This is where the pupils are given tasks and appropriate work and keep in touch with teachers and class mates through ICT whilst they travel (DCFS, 2008). In order to get a more accurate picture of the overall attendance of these groups in schools it would be helpful if a number of these children and parents were willing to voluntary declare their ethnicity in the School Census Data collection.

However with the discriminations they face you can understand why they don’t. There is evidence from Ofsted that a large and apparently immovable attainment gap exists between Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils and from all other ethnic groups. In 2006, less than a third of Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils reached the expected levels in Reading and Writing at the age of 7. Their performance at GCSE and equivalent is the lowest of all ethnic groups and has declined in recent years, in contrast to other groups.

Ofsted reported “a vast majority of Traveller pupils linger on the periphery of the education system” (Equalities Review, 2007). With attainment in mind the DCFS set out to investigate the situation by initiating a small number of discussion seminars. The aim was to identify and explore current practice and to produce a guide to good practice for the benefit of Local Authorities, Children Services and schools.

Some of the out comes were to encourage full participation of Gypsy/Roma and Travelling communities in their own history, this takes place in the month of June (Gypsy/Roma and Traveller History Month, 2008). It would then empower communities to promote their own culture through a) partnership work in schools b) establishing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller collections/museums and c) engaging positively with the media. Provide support for schools by acquiring accurate information on previous schooling, country of origin of new arrivals particularly the case of Roma migrant workers.

Ensure schools and other education providers own culturally specific books, materials and other learning resources (DCSF, 2007). The schools themselves have a list of strategies from local authorities from the DCFS initiative publication, all staff including non-teaching and governors, receive full briefing documentation detailing the legality of the minority ethnicity status of Gypsy/Roma and Travellers of Irish Heritage and linking this to the schools duties under the Race Relations legislation.

Schools should be working in close co-operation with the Travellers Education Support Service (TESS) to devise strategies to extend the schools repertoire of professional development skills to facilitate parental liaison which results in parents from these communities taking a full and equal part in the life and work of the school. Despite all this advice from the DCFS if small schools with maybe only one or two children from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller group attend the school a lot of time and attention is required from all staff to accommodate these children. This can result in a ‘how long? before they move off again’ attitude.