What are the characteristics of an education system which protects and promotes children’s rights?

Consultation by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner

Response by Margaret Wood on behalf of ACERT, the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers.

The following points are intended to highlight the issues relevant to children from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma backgrounds.

We are broadly happy with the proposals and their links to the previous Every Child Matters agenda and wish to make the following points.

  • Current DfE attainment figures demonstrate that children from all these groups are significantly under achieving by comparison with all other ethnic groups and with groups such as those in receipt of Free School Meals. In 2013 83% of All Pupils achieved 5 A* – C GCSEs. For Travellers of Irish Heritage the figure was 39% and for Gypsy/Roma Pupils it was 42% (DfE figures).
  • Up to 50% of children from these groups have dropped out of the school system before the age of 16 and schools are therefore not enabling them to reach the highest level of qualification they can. This means that informed choices about their future in higher education, employment or further training may be less accessible.
  • In order to start to improve the situation for children from these groups it needs to be acknowledged that formal education can be far from a fulfilling experience even though it should be the entitlement. This fact more than families’ mobility accounts for the high level of drop out, poor attendance and exclusions for the groups as a whole. It is not uncommon for children to be ostracised and made unwelcome by other children and at times by staff on account of negative or racist attitudes to their communities.
  • It can be hard or impossible for children who do not fit in to get involved in making positive contributions to society or to get involved in leisure activities with other children whose families might, on occasion, have campaigned to have them evicted from their homes.
  • Providing additional support where necessary and striving to close the attainment gap are both necessary. They require the right level of resources. A good level of cultural understanding on the part of education professionals is necessary and this has implications for training. Sweeping reductions in specialist Traveller Education Services and the decision not to include these groups in the Pupil Premium means that schools may be less likely to address these children’s needs. It also means that it is likely that more children remain outside of and hidden from the system and not on school rolls.
  • The list of children who are unable to attend school should specifically name the example of children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds as such high numbers are not on roll. It should also be made clear who exactly should provide outreach to identify the missing children, who should provide and take responsibility for their education and how this will be monitored and enforced.
  • Many children from these groups are let down by the system but the children and their parents might not realise this and may need specialised help to articulate their views and to be listened to.
  • Accountability of schools (including those outside of local authority control) and of local authorities is essential particularly in economically difficult times.
  • Best practice in education includes careful monitoring of these specific groups by schools and local authorities and DfE. They should then implement strategies to address the issues. Every Ofsted inspection should look at the achievements of children from these groups including any in the catchment area who are not in school.
  • Any consultation carried out with children should deliberately include enough children from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma backgrounds to get a realistic picture of their situation. Best practice may need an element of compulsion to help it to spread and become embedded.

ACERT will be pleased to discuss any of these issues further with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

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