Main discussion points of the meeting:
“Teachers give up hope once they realise a child is a Traveller” – Christina Kerrigan, community development and partnerships officer at the Traveller Movement.
“A lot of the law is being ignored” when it comes to schools excluding children – Dan Rosenberg, partner at Simpson Millar solicitors.
“Racism towards Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children is not as well understood or recognised as non-white, non-GRT racism” – Liz De Vigne, GRT advisory teacher in Ealing.
The main message from the meeting was that, as it stands, far too many GRT children are made to feel isolated and bullied within mainstream education. This can lead to children either dropping out of school or being (formally or informally) excluded.
Every panellist at the event had an experience or had heard of someone of Gypsy, Roma and Irish Travellers being informally excluded, or ‘off-rolled’ – apart from Ash Manor Headteacher Agnes Bailey, who had heard of the practice generally but instead outlined how she adopts a more inclusive and positive approach to behaviour at her school. One type of off-rolling is when schools illegally encourage parents to opt for elective home education to avoid a permanent exclusion. The joint meeting heard accounts of schools using this as a method to (a) keep their permanent exclusion figures down and (b) stop children not predicted to do well in formal exams – often those with SEN – from negatively affecting the school’s position in the exam league tables. This is a problem for many vulnerable children across the school system, not just GRT children. Many panellists also felt that this problem is exacerbated by the ‘academisation’ of schools, which degrades the accountability to the local authority which used to exist.
A formal and systematic approach must be taken to challenge this type of behaviour from schools. The Traveller Movement and other stakeholders in GRT children’s education have come across this practice on a case-by-case basis, however individuals are usually unwilling for any formal steps to be taken within their case as they do not wish to ‘make things worse’ for their children.
What can I do to help?
Roma Support Group recommendations on the exclusions of Roma children:
The full report can be accessed here):
- A national inquiry to understand the scale of exclusion of Roma pupils and to include a particular focus on what happens to young people in the years that follow a permanent exclusion.
- A review of the current mechanisms of the appeal system for exclusion focusing on the experience of parents and the transparency of the governor panel.
- Reinstating a dedicated mechanism within the Department for Education to monitor issues relevant to Roma, Gypsy and Traveller pupils.
- Ensure that there is a dedicated and knowledgeable senior leader who can drive the local authority’s strategies for improving outcomes for Roma pupils, especially in areas which show a disproportionate level of Roma pupil exclusions.
- Better safeguards to ensure the new system of academies are accountable for their approach towards the education of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller pupils.