Date: 09th of November 2020
Dear Mr Williamson,
RE: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils
We are members of the Department for Education Stakeholder group for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. Some of us are leading NGOs, practitioners, former teachers, NEET advisors and activists.
While the officials overseeing this group at the Department have always been very helpful, we are writing to raise our concerns that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are being further disadvantaged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have written to you previously to raise these concerns.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are some of the lowest attaining pupils of all ethnic groups. They have some of the highest rates of exclusions and the lowest rates of attendance. Over 35% of Gypsy/Roma pupils are receiving Free School Meals (FSM), one of the key indicators of disadvantage. These issues have not improved in recent years and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated all pre-existing inequalities, as well as creating some additional ones. For example, digital exclusion and the lack of home learning supports during the recent lockdown meant Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller pupils are now even further behind their school peers. A recent report by the Education Policy Institutes suggests Gypsy/Roma pupils were already 34 months and Traveller of Irish Heritage 23.8 months behind their peers at the end of secondary school. These recent gaps in their education will prove detrimental to their educational outcomes without targeted supports.
Since September, we have seen a significant rise in pupils moving into elective home education which is hugely concerning given the educational deficits and low levels of literacy amongst some Gypsy, Roma and Traveller parents, with many removing their children from school rolls as they are both fearful of Covid-19 and find that their children are very far behind in their studies.
We suggest the Department acts urgently to put additional supports and resources in place in order to prevent more children from falling through the gaps, and to get those children newly in home education back to school.
We collectively suggest the following actions be taken:
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are in dire need of technological support such as laptops, tablets and/or mobile data devices. Whilst some have been provided through local authorities, many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are falling between the gaps.
We are deeply concerned about the rise in elective home education among Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils, and we suggest this situation be urgently monitored.
Whilst there is currently a DfE Stakeholder group for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, this needs resources and investment in order for it to be able to function effectively.
While we welcome the National Tutoring Programme, we have some concerns as its efficacy as we are not aware of any specific efforts or conversations taking place to reach out and make sure Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are being proactively engaged.
Further, any new policies put in place must be equality impact assessed to ensure that they are not further disadvantaging these pupils.
Finally, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils should be included as a named category within the forthcoming research to assess level of catch up requirements for school pupils in England. Given their overall weak attainment, it will be a major oversight if they are left out.
We are sure that you will make a decision that is right and fair, and that children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds will get the help that they need.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Mihai Bica, Roma Support Group
Natalie Stables, Salford Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service
Paul Sayers, Luton Roma Trust
Helena Kiely, Really NEET Project
Emma Nuttall, Friends, Families and Travellers
Samson Rattigan, Friends, Families and Travellers
Lisa Smith, ACERT
Chair: Baroness Janet Whitaker