Written evidence submitted by the Traveller Movement


About the Traveller Movement 


The Traveller Movement (TM) have developed an expertise in tackling local issues whilst shaping national policies.  We have become a recognised bridge between the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) sector, service providers and policy makers, stimulating debate and promoting forward-looking strategies to advance equality, civic engagement, inclusion, and community cohesion.     


About the education policy and campaigning at the Traveller Movement 


The Traveller Movement works across the education sector to challenge systemic and institutional barriers faced by Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller children, families and individuals. Discrimination, and the harassment arising from discrimination, has a pronounced impact on educational attainment for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils and young people in education; and this in turn is statistically likely to adversely affect outcomes in educational attainment, health, wellbeing, employment, economic inclusion, financial security and involvement within the criminal justice system.  


Our aim is to challenge the processes which reproduce discrimination, and to empower pupils, parents and others in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to act as their own advocates when educational challenges arise, before seeking more specialist support.  


About the Education Advice & Advocacy Support Unit (EAASU) and the Equality & Social Justice Unit (ESJU) at the Traveller Movement 


The Traveller Movement continues to operate the Education Advice and Advocacy Support Unit (EAASU) which is a service aimed at supporting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families who are facing significant educational challenges and who often face discrimination in the provision of educational and social support services. The EAASU also provides support, guidance and training for education-linked organisations who wish to increase their engagement with GRT communities. The Traveller Movement operates a dedicated Education Information & Support website, to assist and empower Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families to advocate for their own rights, when this is possible.


Our Equality & Social Justice Unit (ESJU) supports educational matters when more serious intervention is required, either to prevent the need for tribunals, discrimination claims or judicial reviews by using early intervention strategies to deescalate disputes and find suitable alternatives, or in supporting with required litigation, when a dispute is not able to be resolved, therefore providing access to justice for families who require the support following their treatment.


About the Open Doors Education and Training in connection with the Traveller Movement 


Open Doors Education and Training (ODET) is a Community Interest Company (CIC) and sister organisation of the Traveller Movement. ODET was born out of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 when schools were closed. During national restrictions, The Traveller Movement saw an opportunity to reach children and young people through digital methods. We provided young people with opportunities to access professional digital one-to-one education. ODET operates on a model of flexible education that works for each child’s needs and academic background. Our NEET education project gives young people another chance at education when the system did not work for them. Our carefully designed Tutors for GRT Programme strives to ensure that young people from ethnic minority backgrounds do not fall behind their peers.


              Previous Evidence Submitted to the Parliamentary Education Committee


In January 2022, the Traveller Movement submitted written evidence to the Committee on the topic of Education challenges facing children and young people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds’. Our Chair of Trustees, Pauline Anderson, attended an oral evidence session in parliament to answer questions about the evidence we had provided.  


Many of the priorities and challenges identified by Traveller Movement were subsequently reflected in the Committee’s correspondence with the DfE.


About the evidence included in this section 


The evidence in this section has been drawn from a broad and diverse network of individuals from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, as well as organisations who specialise in education and human rights. The Traveller Movement’s casework has informed findings and recommendations, as has some areas of early interventions and past litigation proceedings. 


The Significance of Persistent Absenteeism on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities


Disproportionate attendance rates             


Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children have the highest percentage rate of absence of any ethnic group. The average percentage rate of absence for the year 2017/2018 was 4.7%. For Gypsy and Roma children this figure was 13% and for Irish Traveller children this figure was 18.8%[1]. To put this into perspective Irish Traveller children were losing on average almost one full day of education per week, compared to approximately one per month for the national average.


Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children have the lowest attendance rates of any ethnic group across all ages of education provision. To place this into perspective Irish Traveller children were losing on average almost one full day of education per week, compared to approximately one per month for the national average. 


The impact of negative school experiences


During our case work we can see that persistent absenteeism is often an early indication that something is not right, and that adverse factors are causing a child to not want to attend school. Whilst the reasons can be varied, in many cases we have found that a lack of attendance is due to a negative experience that child may be having in school.  This can be the case even when the low attendance is linked to ill health, which can be used by the child or family to justify their position to the school.


The Traveller Movement has created a typical pathway based on data and reported school experiences for many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, which we have called The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Red Thread in Education. The thread consists of the following concurrent experiences:  



Whilst this series of experiences is not the case for every Gypsy, Roma and Traveller child, it is a significant trend across experiences reported to us as an organisation during the course of our research and casework.  


The impact of racist bullying on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and young people


From our education casework, knowledge of the communities and witness statements taken for evidence purposes, we know that the bullying of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children plays a huge role in the negative experiences faced by young people in education. We hear regular stories of parents who feel they have to warn their children who attend school, often at the age of 5, that they are likely to be treated differently to other children and by other children because of their ethnicity. Traveller Movement research has shown that 70% of Gypsy, Roma, and Travellers have experienced discrimination in an educational setting.[2]


As an organisation, we have been calling on the DfE to require all schools to collect data on racism and bullying in schools, and importantly to collect this data centrally and share the findings publicly. There is not currently a requirement for schools or local authorities to collect, share or analyse this data in a standardised way.


Persistent or unchallenged negative experiences in schools, such as being bullied based on race acts as a disincentive for children to attend school regularly. Additionally, these events, especially when not dealt with effectively or appropriately by schools, causes parents to be concerned about their child’s safety and wellbeing whilst at school. This reduces attendance levels further.     


What we know is that for children who experience bullying, they begin to see school as ‘not for them’, that society does not want them to have a place in education. Their minds then start to turn to activities that do not involve attending school. There is a commonplace myth that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children would rather do more practical education or that they only want to go into the family business of trading horses or private light construction work. This is not true; Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children for generations have been told this and have believed it because it is their only option without a formal education.


For a disproportionate number of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children these factors can have the consequence of being excluded from school. We have seen far too many cases where Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children have sadly responded physically to bullying which is often the ground for their exclusion. Whilst we under no circumstances condone violence of any kind, we must address and consider the root causes of such behaviour and consider whether bullying has played a role.


T-code and the lack of understanding


The T-Code is a specific code used to authorise certain school absences for Travelling families. If your family is travelling for work purposes make sure you let the school know. This will then allow schools to put a ‘T’ in the register which records Gypsy and Traveller pupils’ agreed absences from school if their parents are travelling for work.


Overall, in practice the t-code can be very confusing for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller parents as the rules are not followed consistently across the sector, with some schools having either lower thresholds, or not checking absences are related to essential work travel. Many parents will know of occasions where absence has been authorised outside of the scope of the t-code. Whilst this is not acceptable, it can cause parents to think they are being treated unfairly compared to others, especially when they don’t have sufficient knowledge of the t-code.


School attendance fines and School Attendance Orders (SAO’s)


The use attendance fines and referrals to Attendance Legal Panels (ALP’s) should only be used as a last resort. In our research we have found many schools pushing for this sanction without having spoken to the families first. Fining someone, or even making them go to court is a sure-fire way of breaking down relationships. This will only have negative consequences further down the line. A family’s financial circumstances and the impact fines could have on them should be considered, as fines may exacerbate – rather than address – persistent absence for some cohorts


Schools, MATs and local authorities should use meetings, groups, or mandatory attendance of workshops focusing on the importance of attendance before opting for fines. There is often more to the story behind low attendance.


Schools should also be clear with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families on usage of the t-code ahead of time, as this will enable everyone to be on the same page about the school’s rules. Using handouts to evidence the rules as set by the Government are a helpful way to indicate to parents that schools are following established protocols, and not acting in a discriminatory manner.


The need for Recognition of Constructive Exclusions and its Impact on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Attendance and Negative School Experiences


Overview of Constructive Exclusions


Constructive Exclusion is a term used by Traveller Movement to describe instances where a pupil or family feels that there is a hostile environment within a school. This may be applicable when the school’s conduct forces children to be withdrawn from school. The reasons for this may include scenarios where a school:


-          does not provide a child with a suitable education (for example, overuse of isolation rooms)

-          treats children unequally based on their protected characteristics, or does not follow their school policies in relation to how they treat a child

-          allows other pupils or staff to harass or bully a child


The school’s misconduct may be one serious incident or a series of incidents when considered together and linked.


An example of constructive exclusion is where a child who is being persistently racially bullied at school and reports this, but the schools fail to act to ensure the child’s safety by not appopriately disciplining perpetrating children and not putting in place effective safeguards to protect the child from ridicule, assault or similar. This term can apply to any situation where the school’s failure to act in a lawful or dutiful way presents an unsafe or significantly unsuitable learning environment for a child. It can also be applied to scenarios, which have been reported to the Traveller Movement, in which schools encourage or pressure parents in to signing Elective Home Education (EHE) consent papers to off-roll their child, often without providing sufficient information or guidance. The result of a constructive exclusions often results in a period of EHE whilst the parents work out what is best to do next.  


The impact on pupils with SEND


Similarly to concerns relating to safety of bullied children, children and young people who are not receiving assessment, support, or inclusion with special educational needs also can feel unprotected and out of their depth in school. We have taken several serious cases where children with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCP’s) have not received their support provisions, which has posed a significant risk to their wellbeing safety in a mainstream school setting. This concern can then lead to parents removing their child from the school, but not the role. A high proportion of Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller pupils are identified as SEND, and a comparatively low proportion of these pupils subsequently receive EHCPS.[3]


It is in cases of constructive exclusion where we see long-term non-attendance, with schools often using attendance fines and orders to unfairly encourage parents to send their child back to an unsafe setting, without considering their own actions, or the need for an impartial assessment to determine the reasoning for a lack of attendance. At the centre of this issue is a power imbalance, with school not being held accountable and parents having limited options and resources to challenge actions, decisions, and attendance fines.


The Impact and Effectiveness of the Department for Education’s Proposed Reforms on School Attendance


Attendance fines 


We do not believe that attendance fines work to encourage children and parents to attend school more often. We see attendance fines as an option used inconsistently across the country as a quick and easy option for schools to appear as though they are tackling issues on non-attendance.


The reality is fines do not act as a deterrent to parents wanting to take their children on holiday during term time, as parts who can afford to go on long overseas holiday factor the fines into their holiday costs. For children whose attendance is linked to a personal, family, health or other significant issue, fines do not act as a deterrent, they result in additional stress and do not consider the support or productive measures to needed incentivise and aid attendance.


We understand that in extreme cases where parents refuse to educate their children and do not engage with effective and targeted support systems, fines may be a suitable last resort. However, fines need to have an equal impact across society. Like the changes in court issued speeding fines, non-attendance fines should be costed in relation to household income, to ensure those well-off do not have an affordable option to bypass the law, and more importantly that low-income families, are not suffering harsher justice than those with more means.    


Finally, we believe that the criminalisation of parents in non-attendance matters is wrong. We advocate that this system be moved to civil courts, with a requirement for the courts to consider the provision of effective support services before approving a fine.     


School Attendance Orders (SAO’s) 


We have supported a number of parents with cases in which local authorities rush to seek SAOs. In many cases no consultation, early help, or reintegration plans are offered or considered. This presents a stressful and unrealistic scenario for families and children who may have been out of formal education for significant periods. We want to see a system that focuses on support and community services, rather than opting for legal options. Additionally, when a legal option is required, we want to see reintegration guidance from the DfE to support families and school in understand how to suitable reintegrate children who have been away from formal education for significant periods of time.


Electronic registers 


We have concerns over safeguarding and inter-government departmental sharing of data which could impact the privacy and safeguarding of children when significant data and live attendance data is shared with children’s social services, the police, the home office, as well as the potential for leaked information used by criminals. We also note concerning findings from the Information Commissioner’s Office with regards to the DfE’s usage of data held on pupils[4]. 


Attendance policies  


We believe that all schools and educational trusts should have fair and reasonable attendance policies that focus on support and not punishment. Polices must be inclusive and realistic in their approach.   


Public Sector Equality Duty 


We believe there is a significant need for the mandatory recording of ethnicity in school admissions and attendance data. This should be a requirement as we know certain groups are disproportionately impacted by unfair admissions and attendance rates. For the DfE to be sure they are meeting their equality duty, especially in reducing the disparities between groups with protected characteristics and those without    


Evidence of the Support for Disadvantaged Pupils to Improve Attendance 


Children with chronic illnesses  


Our policy work has witnessed highly impactful examples of support groups set up and run by schools which include children with various chronic illnesses, which may impact their attendance. These groups are usually run by staff with chronic illnesses themselves, who act as a role model to the children and young people in the group. The idea is to create a safe environment to meet, understand and discuss attributes of illnesses which may limit attendance and other in-school activities. The success of these groups appears to be due to the ability of children to understand they are not alone in their difficulties and creates an inclusive and supportive community of staff and pupils who understand one another’s challenges.


Children with caring responsibilities


In addition, our policy work has witnessed successful groups established to support young carers, to ensure their needs are being met and that they are receiving the right support at home to prevent their family members disability from being a barrier to them accessing education.


The Traveller Movement would like to see schools mandated by the DfE to operate these services, as well as receiving additional funding, via pupil premium, to enable schools to properly operate these groups.     


February 2023