Since 2010, the position of UK Governments has been to avoid spending money and rely on local solutions. In the case of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers everything ground to a halt in 2013, when the so-called Ministerial Working Group to address the inequalities faced by Gypsies and Travellers, met for the last time.
Theresa May became Prime Minister pledging to make a success of Brexit and to make society fairer for hard working families. It was out of this concern that she conducted a Race Disparity Audit report pulling together statistics from different departments, focusing on variations in experience and outcome between the different minority groups, in different areas of the country. It is compelling stuff, although in education we have long been aware the Gypsies, Roma and Travellers came the bottom of virtually every index, apart from absence, exclusion and special needs.
Pupils from Gypsy or Roma backgrounds and those from a Traveller or Irish Heritage background had the lowest attainment of all ethnic groups throughout their school years. As shown in Figure 4.1, at age 5, around a quarter of Gypsy and Roma pupils achieved a good level of development, making them around three times less likely to do so than average. At key stage 4 the disparity is wider; in 2015/16 the Attainment 8 score – an average of points scored for attainment in 8 GCSEs including English and Maths – for Gypsy and Roma pupils was 20 points compared with the English average of 50 points and 62 points for Chinese pupils. Gypsy and Roma pupils, and those from an Irish Traveller background, also made less progress compared with the average for pupils with similar prior attainment. They were also far less likely to stay in education after the age of 16 than pupils in any other ethnic group, with just 58% of Irish Traveller pupils and 62% or Gypsy and Roma pupils staying on in 2014/15, compared with 90% of White British pupils and 97% of Chinese pupils.(p.19)
The pupils most likely to be absent were Gypsy or Roma pupils, and those of an Irish Traveller background, with overall absence rates (that is, the percentage of all possible ‘sessions’ that were missed) of 13% and 18% respectively in 2016. (p.22)
Gypsy or Roma pupils, and those of an Irish Traveller background were also most likely to be excluded in 2015/16: 22% and 18% of pupils in these groups respectively were given fixed period exclusions, and 0.33% and 0.49% of each group respectively were permanently excluded.(p.23)
Only around two-thirds of Gypsy or Roma pupils (62%), and those of an Irish Traveller background (58%) stayed in education, employment or training in the 2014/15 academic year.(p.23)
In the rest of the audit, which deals with health, employment, housing, economic well being, criminal justice there is only a single reference to Gypsies, Roma or Travellers (referring to the poor health of the over 65s). The inclusion of the ethnic categories Gypsy Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage in the Pupil Level Census has generated data which clearly illustrates the educational disadvantage of these communities. In every other area they remain invisible, though no less disadvantaged.
Recognising the problem is only the first step on the road to solving it. The DFE has in the past few weeks been contacting local authorities who still offer some form of Traveller Education support, trying to identify good practice. It’s frustrating for those of us who contributed to the National Strategies documentation and the 2010 Research report Improving outcomes of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils. Combined these documents distill good practice.
We know what to do: we just need the support of Government to do it. Peter Norton of nomadic called for action in his letter to the Guardian, while Cassie-Marie McDonagh, of the Traveller Movement wrote a powerful opinion piece, explaining why things were unlikely to change quickly.