MPs urge action to improve support for Traveller children

By Joe Lepper

| 05 April 2019

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children are caught in a "perfect storm of poor outcomes", according to a parliamentary report that criticises councils, schools and government for failing to effectively support them.

Conservative MP Maria Miller, who chairs the women and equalities committee, said the education system was writing off the potential of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children

A women and equalities committee inquiry has made a number of recommendations after finding that children from GRT backgrounds are suffering discrimination and bullying in schools and in some cases are being denied an education.

The committee heard evidence from parents and academics, who said that schools and teachers are not taking incidents of racism or bullying against GRT children seriously.

Some schools are also discriminating against these groups of children through "off rolling", where parents are encouraged to home educate children with challenging behaviour or who are struggling in class.

Another concern is that too many GRT children are missing out on an education as there is little oversight of the quality of home education received by children who are removed from school.

This is a problem "exacerbated by parental mistrust and unwillingness to engage with local authorities", states the committee's inquiry report.

"It is intolerable that any child should not be receiving a suitable education," it adds.

"Many parents, schools and local authorities are letting down Gypsy and Traveller children.

"The first priority for the government, local authorities and Ofsted must be to ensure that the legal right to an education is not denied to any child, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children.

"Home education should be a positive, informed choice, not a reaction to either a poor school environment or family expectations."

The committee heard evidence detailing how pupils from GRT backgrounds have the lowest attainment of all ethnic groups, across all school ages.

Some schools are also treating GRT boys and girls differently, with girls expected to grow up to be homemakers while boys are in low-skilled employment.

"We have heard numerous reasons for why outcomes are so poor, ranging from early exit from formal education to problems encountered by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children throughout their schooling," states the report.

"Overall, we have seen a lack of engagement and co-operation between local authorities, schools, regulators and families, which has led to a perfect storm of poor outcomes."

Among the recommendations is for government, councils and Ofsted to work better together to protect GRT children's right to education.

MPs also want to see schools challenge race and gender stereotyping, with Ofsted actively inspecting schools for such discrimination.

Another recommendation is for the Department for Education to audit all councils to ensure they have robust policies and procedures in place to monitor and address children who are missing from education.

A pupil passport scheme containing a raft of information that helps children access support when they travel between areas should also be considered, says the committee.

Committee chair Maria Miller MP, said there was "no lack of aspiration" from parents, but that for some, formal education is not seen as part of those aspirations.

This leads to pupils stopping attending school at a very early age, making it "too easy" for the education system to "write off the potential" of such children and "enabling prejudice to continue".

"The government needs to work with schools to make sure that no child falls through the cracks in the system," added Miller.

Appearing before the committee in January, children's minister Nadhim Zahawi admitted there had been a lack of progress in this area.

Minister for communities Lord Bourne, said that there would be a response to the report in due course.

He added that the department was "committed to tackling serious inequalities" highlighted by the Race Disparity Audit, and funded six pilot projects aimed at improving health, integration and educational outcomes of the children.

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