Joy and knowledge

A minority within a minority

Last month, I attended the BAMEed Network conference, ‘Creating the future with everyone on board’. The first workshop I selected was one facilitated by Chelsea McDonagh on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller experiences.

‘Gypsy, Roma, Traveller’ is a convenient way of grouping individuals that, similar to ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic’, can result in the eradication and homogenisation of unique identities, experiences, and cultures. Chelsea began the workshop by outlining the distinctions between each of the groups contained in this collective term before exploring her own research.

The research

This post explores the newly published paper, ‘The minority within the minority: The experiences of Gypsy and Traveller students in Higher Education‘, written by Chelsea McDonagh and Joana Fonseca.

After I read the paper, I sought to gather the content that had stayed with me. This personal set of notes isn’t intended to be a thorough summary or a replacement for reading the paper yourself. Think of it as a gateway to getting curious.

The summary

The data is taken from one-to-one interviews with six Gypsy or Traveller participants: two men and four women. 

The interviews explored participants’ identities and the perceived stereotypes they encountered. They share their experiences of both compulsory and higher education, including their coping strategies in the face of racism and prejudice.

identity and background; (2) perceived stereotypes; (3) experiences of compulsory education and (4) Higher Education experiences and coping strategies.

The paper explores how few Gypsy and Traveller students are likely to make it to Higher Education, highlighting the barriers of othering, discrimination, and cultural dissonance as well as disparities in educational attainment experienced during compulsory education. Interviewing some of those who have continued into Higher Education, it’s clear that, in ‘walking unknown ground’, they feel displacement and continue to experience discrimination, surviving by hiding their identity. 

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The minority within the minority: The experiences of Gypsy and Traveller students in Higher Education


McDonagh and Fonseca, 2022


'Recurrently portraited as dangerous and deviant outsiders (Richardson and O’Neill, 2012), with politicians often referring to Gypsy or Traveller encampments as ‘invasions’ or ‘incursions’ (p.150).


Walking unknown ground


"It never occurred to me to actually go [to university], it wasn’t even one of those things that was an option, it wasn’t something like ‘oh...’, it was like ‘this is just something the country people do, it’s not something that Travellers do and I could never do that" - Evelyn - (p.159).




"They were just insanely racist in front of me. They’d take the piss and be like yeah pikey this, pikey that and these were meant to be my friends... you’d be in left wing circles with supposedly liberal people and people be like ‘ah that’s racist, that’s sexist’ and then a thing about pikeys would come up and then it’s like its free range." - John - (p.162).



"I don’t fit into any of the boxes, never fit into a box in my life and all of a sudden like I am a Traveller, but to a lot of Travellers I’m not a Traveller. To a lot of gorgers (Non Travellers), I’m not a gorger. So where, where - Who am I?" - Dina - (p.161).

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'Decades of research attest to the negative experiences, outcomes and poor educational attainment of Gypsy and Traveller children across the various stages of compulsory education (e.g. Bhopal, 2004; Derrington, 2007; Levinson, 2015).'


It starts at school

  • Highest rates of exclusion, lowest outcomes
  • Low aspirations are reinforced by low expectations
  • Staff perpetuate negative stereotypes
  • Lack of representation and visibility in the curriculum
  • Assimilation to the dominant culture is encouraged
  • Bullying goes unaddressed


42% of adults would be unhappy with a close relative having a long-term relationship with a Gypsy or Traveller.


59% would be unhappy with their child having a play date at the home of a Gypsy or Traveller family.


(The Traveller Movement, 2017)

The reflection

Working on professional development programmes, I can seek to ensure that leaders and teachers are considering how they hold high expectations of all, address all forms of bullying and discrimination, avoid the perpetuation of stereotypes and seek to understand Gypsy and Traveller cultures and identities rather than expecting assimilation.

As you read these notes and then the full paper, you may find it helpful to consider your own actions. Some reflection questions have been provided below for you to select from. You may like to think of reflection questions of your own to suit your role and context. You may find it helpful to discuss your reflections with colleagues and leaders in your setting.

  • What challenges me about what I’m reading and why might that be?
  • What resonates with me about what I’m reading and why might that be?
  • How might I explore these factors within my own setting?
  • What does the data in my setting tell me about the outcomes and aspirations of Gypsy and Traveller pupils in my setting? How will I ensure acting on the findings can be prioritised?
  • How are high expectations communicated to Gypsy and Traveller pupils in my setting? How do these compare to the expectations held for other pupils?
  • How might I better understand the multiple histories, cultures and identities of Gypsy and Traveller communities? How does this translate to a culture of inclusion in my setting?
  • How might I understand how the existing curriculum and practices in my setting perpetuate or oppose stereotypes of Gypsy and Traveller communities? How, when and with who might I act on what I find?
  • Are instances of discrimination towards Gypsy and Traveller children taken as seriously as others? If not, why not? What actions might be required to change this?
  • How does the content and enactment of the bullying policy in my setting robustly address bullying and racism towards Gypsy and Traveller children and staff? What changes might be necessary so that staff have clarity and confidence in dealing with such instances?

Sharing your thoughts

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, the paper, and your subsequent reflections.

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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