Equality charities are concerned by a “significant rise” in the number of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) pupils being homeschooled amid the pandemic.
The Department for Education’s GRT stakeholder group has warned that many parents have removed their children from school since September amid fears of catching the virus and concerns their children are falling behind in their studies.
This is “hugely concerning given the educational deficits and low levels of literacy amongst some [GRT] parents,” the group said in a letter sent to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, on Monday.
The signatories of the letter, authored by the Traveller Movement’s education officer Chelsea McDonagh, include the Roma Support Group and the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and Traveller families (Acert).
It calls on the DfE to take six steps to prevent more children “falling through the gaps” and to return pupils newly in home education back to school. These include:
- Reviewing the decision to scale back the provision of laptops for remote schooling and meet needs of GRT pupils “who are largely not being served”.
- Recording the ethnicities of children moving into elective home education to monitor which groups are disproportionately affected.
- Targeted interventions aimed at GRT pupils, in addition to the National Tutoring Programme, to ensure they do not fall behind their peers.
The group also calls for more funding, for all new policies to be equality impact assessed and for GRT pupils to be included as a named category in forthcoming research to assess the level of catch up requirements for school pupils in England.
Meanwhile, more than 35% of Gypsy and Roma pupils receive Free School Meals.
“These issues have not improved in recent years and the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated all pre-existing inequalities, as well as creating some additional ones,” the letter reads.
“For example, digital exclusion and the lack of home learning support during the recent lockdown meant [GRT] pupils are now even further behind their school peers.”
The Education Policy Institute has recently reported that “Gypsy/Roma pupils were already 34 months behind their peers at the end of secondary school”.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We know that some children do need additional support to catch up as a result of the pandemic, including those with a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller background, which is why we launched a £1 billion Covid catch up fund for schools to support those children who need it.
“Our National Tutoring Programme is now live in schools, providing intensive support to the most disadvantaged children. The evidence shows high quality tutoring can make up as much as three to five months’ lost learning.”