Written evidence submitted by Forward South Partnership




Forward South Partnership (FSP) is a community regeneration organisation bringing together all sectors to lead the regeneration of South Belfast. FSP is governed by a cross-sectoral board including statutory and private sector representatives as well as those from the community which are elected to the board through a comprehensive democratic election process.


Forward South Partnership is the parent organisation for the Roma Support Hub (RSH) which includes a telephone helpline, offers in-person Welfare and EUSS appointments, drop-in services, and support. The RSH offers capacity building and skill development activities, as well as fostering positive relations between the Roma and the wider Belfast community and organises a variety of intercultural events and activities.  RSH staff work collaboratively with key partners and stakeholders to strengthen all aspects of delivery with the aim of delivering wraparound support for the Roma in Belfast and ultimately encouraging their inclusion and integration in life in Northern Ireland. 


The RSH stakeholders and steering group include the Education Authority, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, SureStart, Chinese Welfare Association, South Belfast Foodbank, and this brief submission has had input from several stakeholder members.


Although Education is a devolved matter and this Committee pertains only to England, it is worth noting that Northern Ireland often follows the path led by England. As such, we feel that it is worthwhile to respond to this inquiry to reflect on the experiences of many Roma living here in Belfast.  The RSH would recommend that the Committee actively seek input from representatives of the Roma Community in GB as many would not be aware of this inquiry and would not have the time or ability to make a submission. 


The Committee is aware that some Roma children tend to be absent for a significant number of days.  The reasons for this may vary from family to family and indeed within the various nationalities and groupings of Roma. A blanket belief of what is the norm should be avoided. The main factors that affect Roma pupils causing persistent and severe absence are complicated and intertwined. The reasons will vary for different families, but thought should be given to the following considerations


In the wider school system there is a lack of true inclusion of the Roma and lack of awareness or appreciation of Roma cultural norms by teachers, staff and fellow students; Roma cultural is not often represented in celebrations or school displays Significantly, there is a lack of understanding of culturally relevant education expectations (what is perceived as having a ‘good education’) and at what level it is appropriate for pupils to stop attending school. Similarly, the system and schools lack an understanding of the priorities of Roma families - the extended kinship family rather than nuclear family structure - and many may feel financial pressure and ‘require’ children to work, ie girls needed to stay home to look after younger siblings or to look after elders and help with the home.  Early marriage for some girls is yet another pressure.


Understanding of cultural norms and accommodation/adaptation by schools is needed in relation to the semi-nomadic nature of some from within the community, for example, going to home for cultural celebrations; extended summer period (often related to seasonal work); or funerals or family illness.


The above, in turn, is linked to the fact that, at least in Belfast, there is a lack of highly educated role models and community leaders within the community. This is by no means to say that there are no individuals within the wider Roma communities in Belfast or beyond who are not capable of doing well in school or of being ‘successful’, but there are too many examples of people who do work hard, may have multiple languages, but still fail to have equality of opportunities and access to meaningful work. This may result in children and parents questioning the real value of staying in education. 


Those children who do attend school may have difficulty keeping up with work due to a parent’s lack of capacity to help with homework (because of illiteracy or lack of English, for example) which in turn may make a child fall behind in school or feel anxious about attending.  The parental inability to support the child may negatively impact or undermine the role of parental voice making families less supportive of keeping children in school. Family support services within more school would be welcome and should include free afterschool programmes specific for non-English speakers. Many children would benefit with greater support in the transition from primary to post-primary school.  


Bullying is a problem particularly reported by secondary level students. It is reported that often the primary perpetrators are particular ethnic minorities which may suggest a pecking order scenario.  Great mechanisms for addressing bullying and the underlying causes of it are needed with significant emphasis placed on inclusion and the value of multi-culturalism. 


Finally, as is the case for many non-Roma families, the financial implications of school (uniform, transport, food) is a prohibitive. Free school meals are vital and often are a necessary stop-gap for children if parents’ benefits have stopped. A less strict criteria for entitlement for school meals to include those without benefit entitlements or EUSS status may further entice families to keep children in school. A relaxation of the uniform code or a more extensive provision of free uniforms would be welcome



Forward South Partnership and the Roma Hub staff welcome the opportunity to make this submission and very much appreciate the concession made in allowing a late submission to be considered. The RSH and project stakeholders and steering group would happy to be involved in discussions about the issues raised above and how they might be addressed going forward.


February 2023