Gypsy children suffering racism in schools, MPs told

By Joe Lepper

| 13 September 2018

Racism in school is a major factor in the low attendance rates of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, experts have told MPs.

Government statistics show that Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller children have the worst educational outcomes of any ethnic group. Picture: Tom Campbell

At a women and equalities select committee hearing on educational inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, MPs heard that poor attendance was the key reason for the low educational outcomes for children from these communities.

Racism from pupils and teachers is a major factor in this, said the experts, as is bullying and a feeling among GRT children and their families that they are being marginalised by a school curriculum that does not involve their communities' histories.

Latest government statistics show that GRT children have the worst educational outcomes of any ethnic group, with just 21 sitting A-levels in 2016. GRT children also have the highest rates of both permanent and fixed period exclusions than any other ethnic group.

"There is bullying and racism," said Sean Harford, Ofsted's national director for education.

"There is a push and a pull factor here between some schools that push the children away and don't make them welcome, others where the families are pulling the children away at the same time."

Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham's centre for research in race and education, said another factor in poor educational outcomes for GRT children has been cuts to specialist education support.

"The Traveller education services have been drastically reduced. Funding has been drastically cut throughout the UK," she said.

"The Traveller education service plays a vital advocacy role for the families, not just in relation to education, but also accommodation and health and other needs."

She added: "There is lots of qualitative evidence to suggest that when Gypsy and Traveller children attend schools where there is a good-quality Traveller education service and there are good community links and good inter-agency links then parents trust the schools with their children and so they send their children to school."

The lack of an inclusive curriculum for GRT children is another concern of Bhopal.

"The curriculum in schools does not address the needs of Traveller children. It is not an inclusive curriculum. It does not represent adequately Gypsy, Roma and Traveller histories," she said.

"In our research in Birmingham we have found that many parents and indeed children talk about the ways in which they don't feel that they're represented within an inclusive curriculum. I think that's hugely important because it would help to break down stereotypes and barriers."

She also said that schools need better guidance from Ofsted on how to tackle the racism that blights the school life of many GRT children.

"Gypsy and Traveller families and indeed children experience huge amounts of racism and discrimination in schools, not just from their peers but indeed from their teachers as well," she said.

"One of the things we need to address in taking these issues forward, in particular for Ofsted, is to provide clearer guidelines on how racism is addressed in schools, because quite often when Traveller children complain about racism to their teachers, it's not seen as racism because they're white groups.

"So I think we need clearer guidelines on how this group is treated and the discourse and the narrative around how Gypsies and Travellers are treated."

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