Written evidence submitted by Friends, Families and Travellers

We are Friends, Families and Travellers, a national charity working with Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, New Travellers, Roma, Boaters and Showmen.

Gypsies and Travellers have the lowest educational attainment and the highest rates of exclusion out of any ethnic groups in the UK.

Data from the government’s Ethnicity Facts and Figures website:

shows that Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) children have the highest overall absence and persistent absence rates out of any ethnic group:

In 2017/18 the overall absence rate was 4.8% (school sessions missed due to authorised and unauthorised absence) but for Gypsy/Roma was 13% and 18.8% for Irish Travellers.

In 2017/18, 11.2% of pupils missed 10% or more of their school sessions – this is defined as ‘persistent absence’.  For Gypsy/Roma pupils it was 48.5% and 65.2% of Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils were persistently absent.

Gypsies and Travellers also have a high rate of dropping out from schooling.

Information from a Freedom of Information Request we made to the Department of Education about school drop out rates for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils show:

In 2021/22 figures show:


Education Welfare Officers, employed by local authorities, have the role of increasing attendance by liaising with Gypsy and Traveller families and working on dismantling barriers to attendance and helping with school applications, knowing which schools have vacant places and helping nomadic families link up with these schools to secure a place for their child, and other such liaison work.  Local authority Traveller Education Services also provide extra support to Gypsy and Traveller pupils to help them catch up and attain at the level of other pupils.  However, these specialist services have been severely cut, with only a few remaining nationally (such as in Brighton & Hove).  Therefore a positive action that could be taken to improve absence rates and support for GRT pupils would be for central government to reintroduce targeted ring fenced funding for these roles.

Ulcombe Church of England Primary School in Kent, which has a 90% Gypsy/Traveller pupil intake, has employed a part time family liaison officer to work on the issue of attendance, (see page 6 of Ofsted report).  This is an actions other schools could consider, and government could fund:

Due to the high level of disadvantage faced by Gypsy and Traveller children, Gypsy and Traveller pupils often require additional support in school.  There is a cost attached to this.  Therefore, the Pupil Premium should be given to schools for all Gypsy and Traveller pupils to support their needs, in the same way that it is given for Services children and Looked After children, whose extra needs are recognised and financially supported. Pupil Premium is funding to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in schools in England. Evidence shows that disadvantaged children generally face additional challenges in reaching their potential at school and often do not perform as well as other pupils. Pupils eligible for pupil premium are those on free school meals, those who have been adopted from care or left care and children who are looked after by the local authority.  The Department for Education introduced the Service Pupil Premium (SPP) in 2011 in recognition of the specific challenges children from service families face.  One of its aims was to help mitigate the negative impact on service children of family mobility.  There are parallels with Gypsy and Traveller families here, and the introduction of Pupil Premium for Gypsy and Traveller children, who are extremely disadvantaged on many indices, according to recent research from the London School of Economics (LSE), would be appropriate.  The LSE research, ‘Experience of Multiple Disadvantage among Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children in England and Wales, 2018 , which analysed microdata from the 2011 Census, analysed disadvantage in each of 4 dimensions; housing, household economic activity, education and health and found that nearly a quarter of GRT children in England and Wales are deprived on 3 or more dimensions, compared to just 2% of other children.  And conversely, only a small minority (15%) of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children are not deprived in any dimension, compared to the majority (67%) of all other children.

There is also a Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showmen and Boaters’ (GTRSB) Pledge for Schools, which can be found here, including information on how schools can sign up and resources for teachers:

The Schools’ Pledge contains suggested actions schools can take to work towards creating the most appropriate and welcoming environment and conditions in which GTRSB pupils can stay resilient and thrive academically and personally.  Actions include data collection of anti GTRSB language and bullying, GRTSB history on the curriculum, celebration of GRTH month in June and many more suggestions.  These actions will reduce absence of GTRSB pupils.

These actions are needed as Gypsy and Traveller pupils experience high levels of racism and bullying at school, which is one factor leading to their higher levels of absence.

A survey conducted by Friends, Families and Travellers in 2019 asked Gypsy, Roma and Traveller young people what the biggest challenge they faced in school was. 86% of pupils reported the biggest challenge at school as bullying, followed by racism at 73%.

In our research with the Anti-Bullying Alliance Bullied, Not Believed and Blamed: The experiences of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Pupils: Recommendations for Schools and Other Settings’, the experiences of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller young people included;


Experience of racist bullying is a factor leading to low educational attainment, and high exclusion rates. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s School Exclusions Inquiry of 2012, ‘They never give up on you’, outlined the high rates of wrongful exclusion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, stating that;

Success rates of appeals give a reasonable proxy measure indicating that, for whatever reason, a school has made a mistake in deciding to exclude a pupil. In the course of this Inquiry, we examined success rates for appeals by different groups of pupils in 28 Local Authorities, representing every region of England. The data demonstrate that some groups are much more likely than others to lodge a successful appeal which proves they have been unfairly excluded. In many cases, those most likely to be permanently excluded were also most likely to have successful appeals. For example, for Gypsy and Roma Traveller and Irish Traveller children, who are the most likely ethnic group in the system to be excluded, 100 per cent of appeals were successful’

Other issues contributing to absence for Gypsy and Traveller pupils are, a lack of permanent and transit sites, and families not being allowed to stop on transit sites for more than three months.  Thus for families forced into a permanent round of evictions due to a shortage of stopping places, school attendance is difficult.  Therefore, the government needs to reintroduce the statutory duty on local authorities to provide sites, along with 100% central government funding, as existed under the 1968 Caravan Sites Act.  This duty has recently been reintroduced in Wales.

Also, the ‘Continuous Cruising’ requirements by British Waterways on nomadic boater families requires them to frequently move.  This causes difficulties for boater children to consistently attend school as they are forced to move further away from their school, with longer journeys to get there, to comply with British Waterways’ requirements.  The solution to this would be for boater children to be allowed to stay in one place in school term time, so that they can attend school consistently, thus reducing their levels of absence.

February 2023