Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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What choice? Elected home education and Gypsy/Travellers

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  June 11, 2015 |

Primary School children, including Traveller children, learning about Gypsy and Traveller cultures
Primary School children, including Traveller children, learning about Gypsy and Traveller cultures [Photo GRTAS].

Of the four objectives of Leeds GATE (homes, health, education/economic inclusion & citizenship/social inclusion) education is perhaps the hardest to feel that we are ‘getting a purchase’ on.  There are real concerns about whether Gypsy and Traveller young people are getting an education which will serve them well enough in their futures, and further related concerns about whether our safeguarding net is fit to catch them should they need it.

Most of our young Gypsy and Traveller children, and their parents, are happy enough whilst the children are in primary school.  This of itself represents progress since the bad old days when even primary school was hard to access, and hard to stay with.  Unfortunately this progress hasn’t transitioned into High School.  On one site, for example, 37 out of 37 high school age young people are not attending school and this worrying trend is duplicated to a greater or lesser degree on sites across the country.

Some of these young people are described as CME (Children Missing from Education), many are EHE (nominally Elective Home Educated), some are on school roll but excluded; and some are just off the radar altogether. Recently published research by Kate D’Arcy, which we highly recommend to our readers, draws some very worrying conclusions, particularly about legislation, policies and practice around the issue of EHE.  For example Kate found that practitioners and managers, including senior managers, who were not in direct or regular contact with Gypsies and Travellers, when asked stated that a primary reason for difficulties in accessing education was due to mobility.  Yet not one of the parents interviewed identified this as having affected their educational choices for their children.  Parents were much more likely to identify fears about the children’s safety in regards to bullying and cultural identity.

Frankly, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that, apart from very notable exceptions, our High Schools and local authorities are more than happy to see the back of Gypsies and Travellers, by any means necessary.  Not only that but the broad ranks of articulate, often quite well educated and well connected, parents in the UK choosing EHE for their youngsters, also seem quite happy to ignore the effects of legislation, which suits them very well indeed, on Gypsy and Traveller families.

Why, for example, are the many Gypsy and Traveller parents who have neither the inclination, means, nor literacy, to educate their own children, allowed/obliged nominally to do so?  Why do some home educating Gypsy and Traveller parents endure very regular scrutiny visits whilst others receive only one if at all? Is it, as I’ve suggested above, because our schools would rather see the wholesale exclusion of certain ethnic groups of young people than go to the trouble of making their schools truly inclusive?  I honestly think so.  Perhaps not intentionally, but still.

There is no reason to believe that Gypsy and Traveller children are at any greater risk of neglect or abuse than children from any other background.  Indeed traditional culture puts a great value on children, regarding them as the ‘Jewels’ of the family.  However of course, as in every community, some Gypsy and Traveller children and young people do experience neglect or abuse.  The concern is that Gypsy and Traveller children may experience additional, specific factors which may contribute to failings in our safeguarding net.  Not being in school is one. This point is illustrated by this comment from the author of a serious case review “This is the fifth SCR in which the author of this report has been directly involved that has featured the use of home education arrangements to disguise and compound inadequate or harmful care.”*

Surely this should provide food for serious thought.

*The author made no suggestion that all, or indeed any, other cases involved Gypsy/Traveller families.

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