The Education Site That Puts Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Families At The Centre
Opinion

The Education Site That Puts Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Families At The Centre

By Declan O'Driscoll, Education Policy and Campaigns Officer at the Traveller Movement 6 May 2022
Discrimination, Education
Credit: Illustrations by Elijah Vardo

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In 2016, the Traveller Movement embarked on an education project that would have advocacy for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) families in the UK at its heart. Today, we are happy to say that it is officially live!

Following a successful three-year project, the charity decided to move forward with a second education project that would focus on challenging the government’s policy and hold local authorities to account.

This project scrutinises the actions of councils and schools that are responsible for the everyday education of GRT children. However, when embarking on this project, we recognised how much GRT families rely on our frontline advocacy and support and knew how essential it was for our advocacy service to remain a core element of our work.

As part of our current project, we decided to develop a dedicated Education, Information & Support website to help equip families with the knowledge required to navigate an often complex education system. We wanted to ensure we continue actively to support GRT families, and do so by providing useful tools, resources and referrals to other trusted organisations and professionals who can provide specialist support.

The mission

As an organisation that specialises in the human rights of GRT people, we are acutely aware of the significant gaps and challenges in multiple policy areas, including education. During the website’s development, we became aware of areas of significant crossover where effective advice or guidance couldn’t be provided due to major issues with government policy or administrative or financial breakdowns in the system. As a result, we introduced a third section to the website.

This section is entitled Our Mission and will set out in an accessible way the issues we have identified, helping GRT families who are struggling to access good education to understand why this might be.

We have also included in this section our own policy recommendations so that GRT families can see the impact we are having, as well as our objectives, goals and aspirations for what the education system could look like in the future.

We hope this new section will also serve as a transparent and comprehensive resource for policymakers and those with the relevant powers to make changes for the future. We want to ensure that every child, regardless of race and background, has access to the best education available, ensuring the very best start in life and maximising their opportunities.

Enabling and empowering families

We are incredibly proud of this project and hope that it will serve as a useful tool to enable and empower families to advocate for themselves and have the confidence to challenge bad practices which damage their children and young people’s futures.

When describing this project to funders, interested parties and other contributors, we have often found it helpful to liken this website and the service it provides to a supermarket self-checkout. Just as you can at a self-service checkout, families can use the resources and technology available on the site to enable them to serve themselves, without the need for third-party intervention.

This is especially necessary as we are conscious that funding for education advocacy services is often difficult to source and they can be expensive as well as time-consuming. It’s because of these limitations that we want to ensure our communities are equipped with what they need to support themselves with everyday issues.

However, again just like a supermarket self-checkout, we are keen to ensure that, should something go wrong or become too difficult for families reasonably to handle, there will be expert support available. This includes access to specialist trained advocates, as well as access to legal advice and services.

A hub for schools and local authorities

In addition to the website’s main focus, which is to inform and support GRT families accessing education, we are also developing dedicated sections of the website to assist schools and local authorities who have a genuine desire to improve the educational outcomes of GRT children.

This will appear in the form of a hub for schools and local authorities, which will aim to share effective resources and best practice. These sections aim to enable professionals to reassure and improve their standards when it comes to ensuring GRT children are provided with a good standard of education and opportunities.

Local authorities support the innovative project

We have already had a good response from multiple local authority departments who are funding and working to implement innovative new practices to address key areas of concern that fall under council control. These areas include school attendance, various financial provisions, special educational needs, as well as school exclusions. As part of this hub, we are aiming to provide networking opportunities to assist local authorities and schools with their implementation of new and existing schemes.

Illustration of a woman on a laptop

Credit: Illustrations by Elijah Vardo

Exclusions

A current example is a scheme which works to reduce the number of fixed-term and permanent school exclusions. This scheme was initially piloted by Derby City Council, spearheaded by Pauline Anderson OBE, who is their Director of Learning, Skills and Education, as well as the Chair of Trustees for the Traveller Movement. The pilot has had tremendous success in significantly reducing the number of exclusions and days of education lost for children within that local authority. We are committed to working diligently with local authorities to assist them to implement a similar policy to help ensure that any unnecessary exclusions do not go ahead.

A special thank you

We would like to thank all those organisations who have contributed to the website and its contents, as well as our expert Education Steering Group made up of educational professionals and legal experts who have guided the project to be what it is today.

We’d also like to give a special thanks to our funder, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, who have supported this project year after year and without whom the work we are doing to improve the lives and educational outcomes for GRT children would not have been possible.

Finally, we were incredibly lucky to be able to commission an up-and-coming Romany artist, Elijah Vardo, who created the graphics used on the website and in our wider education projects. We are incredibly thankful to Elijah for his hard work and for allowing his art to capture the beauty, colour and rich culture that we as GRT communities have celebrated for generations.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EachOther.

About The Author

Declan O'Driscoll Education Policy and Campaigns Officer at the Traveller Movement

Declan is the Education Policy and Campaigns Officer at the Traveller Movement. He gained a degree in philosophy in London before studying the Graduate Diploma in Law at the University of Law. He subsequently undertook the Legal Practice Course and a Masters in Legal Practice to complete his vocational training in order one day to become a qualified solicitor. In addition to his role developing a specific education website for GRT families, Declan is also working on multiple reports looking at specific issues and barriers facing GRT children, including provision for children with special educational needs, a local authority pilot aimed at reducing the number of school exclusions, and a review of how the law concerning home education disproportionately impacts GRT families. Declan is also proud to sit on many advisory boards and expert steering groups which advise on issues that directly impact GRT children in education. These include a GRT LGBTQ+ working group, a DfE stakeholder group, a working group committed to the inclusion of GRT history on the school curriculum, as well as many other groups set up by organisations, charities, schools and local authorities. In his spare time, Declan is a Trustee and the Chair of Finance, Audit and Risk for an academy trust, where he drafts policies and works directly with families whose children's attendance is consistently low.

Declan is the Education Policy and Campaigns Officer at the Traveller Movement. He gained a degree in philosophy in London before studying the Graduate Diploma in Law at the University of Law. He subsequently undertook the Legal Practice Course and a Masters in Legal Practice to complete his vocational training in order one day to become a qualified solicitor. In addition to his role developing a specific education website for GRT families, Declan is also working on multiple reports looking at specific issues and barriers facing GRT children, including provision for children with special educational needs, a local authority pilot aimed at reducing the number of school exclusions, and a review of how the law concerning home education disproportionately impacts GRT families. Declan is also proud to sit on many advisory boards and expert steering groups which advise on issues that directly impact GRT children in education. These include a GRT LGBTQ+ working group, a DfE stakeholder group, a working group committed to the inclusion of GRT history on the school curriculum, as well as many other groups set up by organisations, charities, schools and local authorities. In his spare time, Declan is a Trustee and the Chair of Finance, Audit and Risk for an academy trust, where he drafts policies and works directly with families whose children's attendance is consistently low.