ACERT Submission to the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry

Margaret Wood and Lisa Smith have compiled an excellent submission to the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities.

The submission covers a range of issues with which ACERT members and supporters will be familiar, but brought together in one document they comprise a powerful indictment of this and the previous coalition governments’ indifference and hostility to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights and inclusion.

It covers the failure to recognise or build on the achievements of the Labour Government, the inadequacy of the Ministerial Working Group Commitments, the impact of cuts and funding change and the unleashing of xenophobic and nationalist sentiments by the Brexit debate. Women and Children suffer disproportionately from the consequences of austerity and the submission doesn’t pull its punches. 

Minister’s defence of commitments fails to convince

Lord Avebury, ACERT president, has received a response from Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister to the letter he wrote on July 2nd expressing concern about Ofsted’s response to two of the commitments of the Ministerial Working Group.

While the minister claims to be “strongly committed to tackling the inequalities experienced by pupils from these communities”, the letter suggests there will be no changes in Ofsted practice; “[w]here an inspection discovers that particular groups of pupils are not making good progress, Ofsted will take this seriously and investigate fully.” The minister assures Lord Avebury that the changes to the inspection framework (which downgraded Gypsies, Roma and Travellers to a footnote) do not represent a weakening of Ofsted’s commitment. Even if this is the case, the Ministerial Working Group Commitments aim to reduce inequality not maintain the status quo. There are many ways in which Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils can fall through this net; isolated learners, children moving between schools, those who do not choose to identify themselves to the Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage ethnic categories so ACERT expected positive action, focused inspections and better training of the inspectorate. Ofsted is carrying out its legal duties under the Equalities Act and no more, and the Government feels that that is sufficient.

Lord Avebury’s letter pointed out that Ofsted had also failed to highlight the problem of racist-bullying experienced by many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils in its thematic review “No place for bullying.” This figured in Commitment 5 of the progress report. The Minister again offered the assurance that “the recommendations made in the document apply to all vulnerable pupils, including Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.” Again, no specific focus or positive action.

The Minister concludes by acknowledging that the Government has limited control over what Ofsted says and does, and encourages Avebury to write directly to the Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw. The inspectorate is, rightly, independent of Government (with some notable exceptions) but the question then arises, should the Ministerial Working Group be making Commitments on its behalf. Was there any consultation, we wonder, with Ofsted before the commitments were made, or is the progress report a paper-thin cosmetic exercise which is beginning to fall apart?

Poor start to implemention of Government’s equalities commitments

The ACERT president, Lord Avebury, has written to the Education Minister, Nick Gibb to express our concern about the first two education commitments in the Ministerial Working Group progress report, both of which involved OFSTED. ACERT had a positive meeting with Christine Gilbert (the then Chief Inspector) last year, but it would seem that Sir Michael Wilshaw (the current head of OFSTED) has different priorities.

Commitment 1 reads: “Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are specifically highlighted as a vulnerable group in the revised Ofsted framework, ensuring that school inspections will pay particular attention to their progress, attainment and attendance”.

The 2012 Framework makes no reference to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, or indeed to any other group of vulnerable children! The associated handbook for school inspection from September 2012 refers to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in a footnote (15, p23) as those with protected characteristics, as defined by the Equality Act 2010. The previous version of the same paragraph in the evaluation schedule for the inspection of maintained schools and academies on p.5 explicitly included Gypsies, Roma and Travellers so the new version seems weaker than its predecessor.

Commitment 5 (p10) reads: “In line with its Schools White Paper commitment, Ofsted is conducting a survey on prejudiced-based bullying, which is now under way. This will involve inspectors talking to pupils about their experiences of bullying and the way in which it is handled in their schools. Bullying of minority groups will be picked up in this survey, and the results will be published in 2012.”

The survey report “No place for bullying” includes one specific reference to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers:  “A third primary school that had an annual influx [sic] of Traveller children for a short period of time prepared all pupils for their arrival, exploring the Travellers’ culture and aiming to ensure smooth integration and a lack of bullying.”

Not only do we consider the word “influx” as indicative of the standpoint of the authors, but also the opportunity to highlight the concerns of many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller parents about racist bullying has been missed.

The text of Lord Avebury’s letter is below.

Letter from ACERT President to Nick Gibb

Government progress report on Gypsies and Travellers published

The Government yesterday published its progress report called “Tackling Inequalities for Gypsy and Traveller Communities”.

This report will be discussed at the next ACERT Executive on 1st May after which our response will be published here. The Executive is open to all ACERT members (although space is limited).