Why do Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children have such low educational achievement?

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children underachieve significantly compared to students from all other ethnic backgrounds (source for graphic below):

Attainment 8 Results, 2018 data, DFE

The most obvious explanation is to look at their poor attendance rates. Gypsy and Roma and Traveller (GRT) children have much higher absence rates than children from other ethnic groups: 13% and 18.8% respectively.

Absence from School, 2019, DFE.

However, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, from the Center for Research in Race and Education at Birmingham university has conducted research with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children and cites two main reasons for poor attendance and high drop out rates:

  • Firstly they they don’t feel represented in the school curriculum
  • Secondly that they have experienced racism in mainstream schools

Not feeling included in the school curriculum

Parents felt that the curriculum did not adequately represent their unique histories, they felt that they were effectively excluded, and that the curriculum wasn’t really for them.

They also felt suspicious of sex education being included in the curriculum – in their communities, this is something that is done within the family rather than talked about in public.

Finally, simple activities where children are asked to talk about their home lives can make GRT children feel very different very quickly. Asking a child to draw a picture of their home-life, for example can lead to most children drawing pictures of homes and gardens, which is different to what GRT children are going to draw.

In short, it sounds like children are experiencing the curriculum as ‘ethnocentric’!

Being victims of discrimination and racism

Parents and pupils claimed that they had experienced racism from both children and teachers within schools, however, when they reported incidents of racism this tended not to be taken seriously as they were white.

GRT parents were also very sensitive to stereotypes surrounding the GRT community.

Funding Cuts

Funding cuts to Traveller services as a possible barrier to maintaining attendance levels of GRT children.

Changing Times?

Having said all of the above, times are changing. Younger GRT parents are much more pro-school than older parents, and much more likely to work with.

Sources

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