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. I selected this workshop since this was one area where I felt I knew the least.
‘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 and this is included in the first image of my notes below.
Most of Chelsea’s workshop centred on their newly published paper, ‘The minority within the minority: The experiences of Gypsy and Traveller students in Higher Education‘, which will be the subject of next week’s blog. During the presentation, Chelsea referenced another paper, published by The Traveller Movement in 2017, titled, ‘The last acceptable form of racism?’
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 data is taken from an online survey of 214 UK Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community members.
Stark statistics and narratives highlight the members’ experiences of prejudice and discrimination across a variety of public services, including education.
Three main areas of education are highlighted in the report as contributing to the prejudice these community members have experienced, leading to subsequent behaviours of hiding identities and avoiding seeking help. The paper details how education can be a place where stereotypes of communities can be upheld rather than opposed, engagement with families can be a process of exclusion rather than inclusion, and bullying and racism are tolerated and overlooked rather than addressed and eradicated.
GRT: Gypsy, Roma, Traveller
Gypsy: English, Romany, Romani
Traveller: Irish (Pavee), Scottish (Nachins), Welsh (Romany/ Kale)
Roma: Multiple groups eg. Sinti, Gitanos
Showground, Fairground people, Bargee people, New age traveller
(Mulcahy, Baars, Bowen-Viner and Menzies, 2017- from Chelsea McDonagh's BAMEed presentation (21 Jan 2023)
The last acceptable form of racism?
The Traveller movement, 2017
'GRT communities faced “multiple disadvantages” in education, health, the workplace and the justice system. The report found that Gypsy and Traveller children were far less likely to get the minimum number of GCSEs compared to their White British peers. In health, Gypsy and Traveller communities were shown to have a lower life expectancy, lower rates of child immunisation and a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression compared to other groups' (EHRC, 2015) (p.9).
- General: 91%
- Education: 70%
- Employment: 49%
- Accessing health care: 30%
- Refused services: 55%
- Hate speech/crime: 77%
'Their negative experiences in education in particular have a lasting impact on GRT communities. This has fuelled a lifelong impression that British society does not value or respect their culture and certainly does not recognise the rich contribution they make' (p.4).
- Teachers are central to this (p.11)
- "The teachers at my school were worse than the pupils for highlighting that I was different."
- "Even the teachers would call our family the ‘Gypsy family’ like we were a disease.”
- “There is no point teaching you, you will only end up tarmacking drives.”
- “Separated into lower educated class groups without tests for capabilities."
Poor engagement with families
- “Because me mam couldn’t read or write, they belittled her” - families made to feel 'uncomfortable and inadequate' (p.11).
- “A head teacher [was] showing me and my child around her school. [She] was perfectly polite until I told her we were Travellers. She then launched into a rude and extremely judgmental lecture on personal hygiene and time keeping. I took my child to a different school" (p.12).
Overlooking bullying and racism
- “Bullying at school and teachers doing nothing about it - whereas for other students they would have" (p.12).
- “Yes, the children get called Gy*o and the teachers will not record it as a race hate incident" (p.12).
- “Schools don’t take bullying of Traveller children seriously" (p.12).
- “Couldn’t sleep over at my friend’s house because her mother said Gypsy children would steal" (p.12).
- Changing accent
- Wearing plain black clothes
- Using settled friends' addresses
- Pretending to be Irish or Mediterranean
- “All the time. I won’t tell anyone I am a Traveller until I have known them for a month or more. Until I feel that I can judge their reaction" (p.20).
- “It will never stop so why bother. Grown a thick layer of skin" (p.21).
- “Pointless as they would just look at my case and throw it out because I’m a Traveller... They always assume we wasn’t worth the time or just plain lying" (p.21).
- “I got advice but not helpful as we are looked down on as vermin” (p.21).
'The history and culture of Gypsies and Travellers is not being taught in schools in the UK despite initial progress made in 2008 when the Department of Education established Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. Without action, teacher’s and pupil’s general ignorance of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller cultures will ensure the children from these communities continue to feel excluded and isolated at school. Therefore, we strongly recommend that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month should be supported by the Department for Education and rolled out across all schools in the UK' (p.22).
Working on programmes for leaders in education, I can seek to ensure these considerations are represented in content about the clarity, communication and implementation of policies, setting and sustaining a vision of inclusion in a setting, and working in partnership with families and the wider community.
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?
- How might I better understand the experiences of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils and families within my setting? How will I ensure acting on the findings can be prioritised?
- How might I understand how the existing curriculum and practices in my setting perpetuate or oppose stereotypes of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities? How, when and with who might I act on what I find?
- If my context supports Black History Month in October, what might be the possibility of also celebrating Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month in June? How might I explore the celebration of these histories beyond these months?
- Are instances of discrimination towards Gypsy, Roma 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 instances of bullying and racism towards Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and staff? What changes might be necessary so that staff have clarity and confidence in dealing with such instances?