Cuts to Traveller Education Services

By Michael Doherty 

Introduction

You already know that the cuts to Traveller Education Support Services (TESS) are bad. I guess I am here to tell you how bad. The trouble is this would only take five minutes and I would still have another 15 to fill. So I am going to tell you a bit about why and how I did the research and what I think it means.

I realize that there is a hell of a lot of experience of working within and for the Romany Gypsy, Traveller and Roma community in this room and it’s a bit daunting because I am up here about to tell you how it is – with all of 4 months of research and experience behind me.

In short – It feels like I am just about to teach you all how to suck eggs.

The Research

Why I did the Research

The research into the cuts to Tess was part of my final dissertation project at City University, London. I have been there for the last academic year studying for a Masters Degree in investigative journalism. A previous Assignment to this involved making a short film about Traveller reactions to Firecracker Production’s TV series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (MBFGW).

During the making of this film I managed to tag along to a protest by members of the Traveller community targeting a Firecracker Films presentation at a Royal Television Society bacl-slapping event.

From this I managed to get published a short opinion piece for the Big Issue and a tiny little news piece for the Guardian Media section – for which I got paid £90.

Protests, publication and payment! I was hooked and decided to switch my MA project from an investigation into British Waterways to something to do with Roma, Romany Gypsies and Travellers.

How I Did the Research

Didn’t have much time so I quickly formulated a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. I wanted to capture the data for the numbers of staff that worked within education Teams that were mainly or wholly targeted at Travellers. The team, or individual within that team, might be part of another team that had a wider remit – that didn’t matter – as long as most of their work was solely with Travellers.

I sent the FOI’S off in two batches over two weeks – one to every LA with responsibility for education in England.

Two days after I sent the first batch I got a full reply from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. This told me that the FOI Worked.

In addition, Bury – which also came in early – kindly told me that the FOI cost £12.50 to process – good news – but I do realise that my dissertation cost the tax-payer £1,687.50 – so all you tax – payers out there – Thanks and possibly a story for the Daily Mail?

The Results

135 Local Authorities replied. 24 of them, or one in five, are completely ‘deleting’ their dedicated Traveller education support team and a further 28 are cutting more than a third of their staff.

The responses also reveal that the Total number of TESS full time staff, or equivalent, has been reduced from 519 in April 2006/7 when the service was at it’s peak, to 425 ON April 4th, this year. The projected figures for this term – which of course has now started – is 372. This IS a 27% reduction in staff from when the cuts started to bite BUT the actual situation may be much worse as 17 Local Authorities declined to anticipate their projected staffing levels because they where ‘under review’, ‘undecided’, ‘unknown’, or being ‘re-structured’. It would probably be safe to say that some of these Local Authorities (LAs) may be making further cuts, or even deleting the service completely, adding to the carnage.

Most LA’s deleting the service indicate in their FOI responses that they are passing the responsibility onto other staff/teams – usually EMA, BME, attendance and inclusion and vulnerable children teams.

Another noticeable feature of the FOI responses, and one that may be transforming the type of service that the individual TESS’s give, is the annihilation of the qualified teaching staff and those who are given the title of GRT teaching assistants. 300 in 2007 and 150 now.

On a national scale the impact of the cuts is patchy. Some regions – such as London – having severe losses and some only minor losses. A few LA’s – mainly in the North of England – are even adding one or two staff because of the increasing number of Roma being added to their remit.

Back to London

The London TESS’s serves the cities 35 official Traveller sites which have 494 pitches with space for 740 caravans and chalets.

Freedoms of Information Requests were sent to all 32 London Boroughs.

30 replied. (Bromley and Enfield didn’t)

10 London Tess’s have now been deleted completely since 2007, most during the last academic year; (Greenwich, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Hillingdon, Lambeth Lewisham, Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Camden, Kingston Upon Thames and Newham.

Inner South London is particularly badly hit.

At its peak in 2007, the London TESS staff stood at 61. By April this year the total staff count was down to 40 and is now at 29. From the responses it is clear that almost all of these are front-line staff.

So What Does it Mean?

I will let Vanessa, a 17 year old Irish Traveller woman I met during my research tell you in her own words.

“My father wasn’t happy with me going to secondary school. I could read and write and he didn’t see the point of me carrying on,” she says. “I could blame Mr Cannon. I could say Mr Cannon is making me go or mum will have to go to prison,” she says. “I could say that to my friends as well – I have to go to school today or Mr Cannon will find out,” she says. “Mr Cannon knew that and he would just laugh and say that as long as we went to school he didn’t care what he was blamed for. Mr Cannon understood us – he knew we had to clean house and look after the younger ones and sometimes might be late. He would talk to the teachers if we had to go to Ireland for a funeral or christening and miss school. He would explain that funerals are important for our community and work out how to settle us back in so we could catch up,” she says. My dad completely changed his mind about education when I got my qualifications and got a job,” she says. “He is proud of me. He now tells my sisters to go to school to get their papers, and that is a shocking thing to have happened if you knew him,” she says.

So what to do?

My job is to tell people. The research has been part of a UN report, has appeared in two articles in the Traveller’s Times, has been published as a news story in The Independent. I am currently working with BBC London TV to make a short news clip.

There is still room for an in-depth feature somewhere.

What you can do – I don’t know.

What Happens Next?

Travellers are starting to get more of a public voice. This can only be a good thing. Dale Farm – Travellers, young and old, fighting back and engaging with and using the media (and this includes Paddy Doherty) – telling the public that Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are not mythical stereotypes or one dimensional folk devils. It’s the same in the printed press. Some Journalists are seeking out and talking to Travellers and their voices are being listened to. And they are being told to do that by editors who realise that there readers are curious and want to know more. But there is also a backlash – the way the recent slavery raids were racialised in media reports show that for many sections of the press its business as usual.

I want to work on something – anything – that helps to challenge this racism in the media.

I am going to focus on something I came across when I manned the online comment thread the day the Independent published the cuts to TESS news story. And that’s Anti Traveller racism in the online versions of the mainstream broadsheet press.

I have read through one thread after a sympathetic Dale Farm opinion piece in The Observer and separated and counted the racist comments.

500 comments – 150 of which have at least one racist statement in them. I don’t mean they are just negative about Dale Farm or even are just abusive about the Travellers living at Dale Farm – they are racist generalisations about the different Traveller ethnic groups.

There are common themes to this racism.

One is: ‘You wouldn’t want ‘them’ living near you’ (meaning ALL Travellers – not just the ones at Dale Farm. If it was clearly just about the Dale Farm inhabitants then it’s abusive – but not racist).

Another type is that Gypsies and Travellers are not ethnic groups – just drop-outs and free-loaders who cry ‘race’ if challenged.

Another type compares bad ‘Irish tinkers’ to good ‘true Romany Gypsies’.

Then there are the unsubstantiated anecdotes about Travellers spreading human excrement, leaving rubbish and thieving. And these anecdotes are then ascribed as traits that are cultural or even genetic traits of the different Traveller ethnic groupings.

Gypsies ‘who own shiny 4 x 4’s’ having lots of money ‘obviously’ obtained from criminal activities is another. Not paying tax or contributing to society – yet getting more than a fair share of its benefits is yet another. Beating their women. Drugs and alcoholism.

All the racist comments are posted anonymously under avatars. These avatars have names like ‘Haardvark’, ‘Doughcnut’ and ‘Fart Like a Creaky Hinge’. The same names and statements crop up regularly in other articles on Travellers.

I am going to crunch a few articles and start counting the different types and percentages, number of racist comments per commentator, etc etc. Other ways to analyse them will come to mind. The initial aim of the research is to shock people with both the repetition, the bullying and cowardly abusive inanity of them, and just the sheer numbers. Some threads go on for days. To be honest – I’m gobsmacked by what is out there – A far right website yes – but the Observer?

But Why worry? – it’s just trolls and trolling isn’t it.? A small minority of bedroom dwelling pizza munchers? Misfits and low-life? Billy no-mates?

Yes, it might be – but their scrawlings are legitimized and given authority by being published by what should be the quality press. A press that’s read by opinion formers, elites, professionals, mp’s policemen, teachers, planning officers, potential jurors AND Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. And editors are legally and – I would say – morally – responsible for this racism.

A quick scan suggests that other ethnic minorities do not get the same treatment – or, rather, the racist comments are deleted by the papers online moderators. It seems like Travellers are a special case.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why it’s called the last socially acceptable racism. And this racism does make Traveller children a special case.

And this is one of the reasons why I think that Traveller children going through formal education need special targeted help.

And TESS exists to do that – so why delete and replace it?

Lord Avebury Update

Once again I’m delighted to be with you at this AGM, though we’re looking at a somewhat depressing picture as far as the Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities are concerned, from most but not all angles.

The abrupt change of policy on accommodation, signalled by the Secretary of State Eric Pickles the minute he got his feet under the desk, means that after seven years of gradual reduction in the proportion of the caravan-dwelling Gypsy-Traveller population who are homeless, from a quarter in 2004 to 17% in 2011, the trend is likely to go into reverse. Not only is it likely that, following the example of the inhuman treatment of the residents on the Dale Farm site, whose eviction is being subsidised by £18 million of public money, other local authorities will be acting tough against the 3,100 unauthorised caravans, but they will also decline to renew the 900 temporary permissions whenever they expire. The psychological impact on the whole community is already traumatic, and there will be unfortunate side effects on the education of those affected, such as even higher rates of absenteeism and lower records of achievement.

The direct effects of Government policy on the education of GRT children are also negative on balance. The gradual extinction of Traveller Education Support Services, initiated by the end of ring-fencing in 2007, seems to be accelerating with the squeeze on local authority budgets. Freelance journalist Michael Doherty found in a survey of 127 local authorities that 24 were abolishing their TESS altogether and another 34 were cutting more than a third of their staff. The total number of staff in these authorities was 480 in April 2007 when the service was at its peak to 354 in the next academic year, a 38& reduction. The actual situation may be worse than this, because 20 councils were unable to say what their projected staff levels would be because they were “under review” or some equivalent.

The Pupil Premium is a very welcome development, but isn’t likely to be spent on retaining dedicated support for GRT pupils, when schools are accountable to parents on how the money is spent. There is to be limited guidance on how the money is to be used, but this may not require that all parents, rather than those most actively engaged with their children’s education, get to know what’s proposed to be done with the money.

Last week the Department’s GRT Stakeholder Group considered and finalised responses to the School Funding Consultation, and I hope you would agree that it was a useful exercise. I want to pay a special tribute to Margaret Wood, Brian Foster and Arthur Ivatts for their input to this exercise, without which it would have been impossible to reach any conclusions. The questions demanded knowledge of both the existing system of funding and the changes which were likely to be proposed, which few members of the public including representatives of the GRT communities were likely to possess. We now have before us an inquiry by the Children’s Commissioner on exclusions, which I’m very much hoping we can also get some help on, with so many of the Stakeholder Group members totally submerged in the Dale Farm catastrophe.

One of the lessons we have learned from this exercise was that the Stakeholder Group doesn’t have the necessary mix of experience and skills to comment on the educational funding system, and we were very lucky to have enlisted the advice of ACERT members to help put the submission together, and to have Arthur Ivatts, who IS a member of the Group, guiding the meeting through his own very useful additions to the draft.

The response emphasises that significant numbers of GRT children are not on school rolls and aren’t considered in the funding formulae. The proposed simplification isn’t helpful from a GRT point of view because it eliminates the categories ‘underperforming ethnic groups’ and ‘turnover’ that were covered by the Additional Educational Needs (AEN). The additional funding for ‘deprived pupils’ should be extended to underachieving groups, and ought to refer specifically to GRT pupils, and EAL children as well to bring in Roma children.

We said that Free School Meals were a relatively good proxy indicator of financial deprivation and related educational needs, but the Department’s own statistics showed that fewer than half of GRT children were claiming. The questions in the consultation don’t take in the observation of the Equality Impact Assessment that AEN which aren’t deprivation-related should be considered.

Here perhaps I should mention that the Minister, Lord Hill, helpfully wrote to me setting out how deprivation is defined and presumably, since he was writing in the context of a New Clause I had tabled to the Education Bill requiring the Secretary of State to issue guidance on how local authorities could promote and improve the education of vulnerable children, how it would continue to be defined in the new funding system. [You can read my speech on the New Clause in the Grand Committee on the Bill]. To summarise, I argued that the definition leaves out a sizeable number of GRT children and especially those missing education or ostensibly being home educated. I suggested that we need to make far greater efforts to improve the attendance of secondary age children, bearing in mind that over a third of Irish Traveller children don’t make it through to school leaving age.

We ducked the problem highlighted by the Badman report, that many parents who claim to be home educating their children are manifestly incapable of doing so, but a system of inspection that concentrated on GRT home educators would violate the Equality Act. Intervention would have to be based on some other characteristic that wasn’t ethically specific.

Two more thoughts on this: The E-Lamp project, using laptops and distance learning, was reported to have been successful, with 75% of participants gaining qualifications. When public funding for this work ceased in 2010, the project was taken over by the Ormiston Children and Families Trust, and the learning materials infrastructure remained in place. With the arrival of low cost netbooks, surely this would be an effective way of getting dropouts to come back to education. I gather from some of the comments on the scheme that some participants didn’t think the laptops or the total package including internet access provided by the nominated suppliers, were good value for money, and a more flexible scheme might allow users to take advantage of the rapid developments in both hardware and ISP pricing on the market.

Second, we need to find a more effective way of re-engaging with all Children Missing Education, that would include those who withdraw at or after the transition from primary to secondary. The virtual schools, which I believe have been successful in the pilots on looked-after children, could be extended to CME, an idea which I understand is already being considered in the DfE. I mentioned this in the debate on GRT education in the Lords, and expect to get a response from Lord Hill, who is always meticulous in writing to pick up details that weren’t covered in his reply to the debate itself. Clearly the tasks of a Virtual School Head would be quite a bit different in the case of children missing education from that of a VSH dealing with looked after children, and the blueprint might start with the Ofsted survey of August last year. Some of their work would be preventive, such as ensuring that pupils failing to attend for more than 20 consecutive school days were followed up, and that agreed procedures for exclusions were observed.

I spoke to David Berridge, one of the team at Bristol University’s School of Policy Studies who carried out the evaluation of the pilot VSH studies, and his off the cuff answer was that a small team with a central overview of Children Missing Education could have a useful role to play if the funding was available, and that it could be lead by someone with the status of headteacher, though a different terminology might be appropriate when most of the children covered aren’t actually in contact with the educational system.

Speaking of exclusions, I’m hoping that the Stakeholder Group will put together a response to the Children’s Commissioner’s School Exclusions Inquiry, the deadline for which is October 5. On this, as with the schools funding, the GRT communities themselves may not be well placed to deal with some of the questions, such as how for instance the inequalities seen in the figures for exclusions be addressed, or how schools should address the imminent equality duty and whether schools have been made sufficiently ready to implement the duty; and if the Group is to cover these broad questions of policy, they will need input from allies in ACERT beyond those who are actually members of the Group. I’ve asked the members of the Group to let me have their comments on the questionnaire and Arthus Ivatts has very kindly agreed to collate the replies.

A couple of other matters I’d like to share with you today. At the April meeting of the Stakeholder Group we discussed the European Union Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, which proposes that all member states should adopt a comprehensive approach to Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities, covering access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. The Framework recommends that the national strategies should set achievable goals for GRT children in each of these four sectors, with funding by governments, supplemented, where appropriate, by the EU. Money is available through the European Social Fund, in which there is a ring-fenced 172 million Euros for actions aimed at integrating the GRT people in the period 2007-13.

The Framework suggests that the strategies should be designed, implemented and monitored in close cooperation and continuous dialogue with GRT civil society, but up to now the Group is unaware of what is going on. We have written to the CLG Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, asking to be included in the policy- and decision-making processes stemming from the European Commission’s Framework, and I hope the cross-departmental Ministerial Task Group on GRT Inequalities of which he is chairman will set out our response to this initiative (read the letter to Eric Pickles here). The House of Lords EU committee will also be looking at the Framework in the light of the Government’s response, and I’m sure that in the meanwhile the DfE is bearing in mind the possibility of applying to the Social Fund for help to meet the cost of projects we would like to launch or retain, but are otherwise going to be lost in the cuts.

Finally, Margaret Wood, Brian Foster and I had a useful meeting with Christine Gilbert the former Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector on June 17, after a conversation I had with the Minister Lord Hill. She told us it may be possible to conduct a survey on how the needs of GRT children are being met towards the end of their current 18-month programme, that’s towards the end of 2012. Notes on the meeting are on the table, and you will see that we have an assurance that a further meeting with the new Chief Inspector could be arranged at an appropriate time. Subject to what the meeting thinks, it might be an idea to suggest that it should be an annual fixture.

That great lady who founded ACERT in 1973 Bridget Plowden, asked a rhetorical question in an article she wrote on the 20th anniversary of her Committee’s report on primary education:

“Is there not a place for knowledgeable people, not only politicians and those from the educational world, to look at intervals at what the educational world and the politicians are doing for the nation’s children, who belong to all of us?”

Alas, there are few enough politicians, let alone those knowledgeable people, who take an interest in what’s being done for GRT children, and the national media ignore the connection between the failure to do enough for those children, and the problems faced by their communities as adults in terms of health, social isolation and inability to access public services. But perhaps amid the gloom, there’s an opportunity. Dale Farm, a cliffhanger experience for the families involved, has focussed unprecedented media attention on the overall environment in which society has allowed such a barbaric event to develop, even if the application for judicial review on the grounds that Basildon made insufficient efforts to find an alternative site for the residents is successful on Monday. And the European Union will be keeping watch over us until 2010 at least, ensuring that the Government have to account for themselves internationally. After nearly forty years, ACERT has a more important role than ever in these circumstances, and I’m sure that we will play a very full part in keeping up the constructive pressure which is the very reason for our existence.

AGM 2011 Agenda

The Day’s Agenda

Morning Session

9:30 Coffee and Registration
10:15 Welcome and Apologies

Chair’s Report

Treasurer’s Report

Adoption of Accounts

Election of Officers 2011-2012

Election of Committee 2011-2012

11.00 Lord Avebury – Update
11.30 Cuts to Traveller Education ServicesMichael Doherty

Traveller Education: a DfE perspectiveAngela Overington

Open Discussion: The Way Forward – Angela Overington and Lord Avebury

13.00 Lunch

Afternoon session

14:00 The Roma Support Group – Laura Grearson and Gabriella Smolinska-PoffleyEquality – Alan Anstead
15:00 Plenary and
Close

All Change Keynote Speech

The Future of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inclusion in the new coalition era

By Lord Avebury

ACERT conference November 5, Friends House

This is a time of crisis and uncertainty for the GRT community, when the policies that were being developed and implemented by the previous Government have been shredded, and the shibboleth of localism means that targets for providing sites for homeless Travellers have been abandoned permanently. On the home page of the DfE website the reader is told that

“All statutory guidance and legislation linked to from this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless indicated otherwise, but may not reflect Government policy”,

And if you then turn to the page on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Heritage, you find that against every heading there is a warning in red, that

“This page may not reflect Government policy”

An excellent excuse for doing nothing, and for cancelling projects wherever possible to help meet target spending limits.

A Rapid Impact Assessment by the  Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) found that in the East Midlands, 71% of the local authorities that responded were planning to keep the RSS targets for Gypsy sites, but they will find it much harder to achieve them when the public know the Government have encouraged them to make their own decisions, on which there is no guidance as yet to replace Circular 1/2006. You would think that Ministers would be keen to know what changes in provision of accommodation are likely to occur, but so far the BSHF gives us the only clue. Since 29% of the LAS that responded have either adopted a lower target or still have’t made any decision, its a fair bet that the final numbers are going to be a good deal lower than the RSSs.

Ostensibly, education did comparatively well in the Spending Review, with an extension from 2012-13 to 15 hours per week of free early education and care to all disadvantaged two year old children, as the cornerstone of a new focus on the foundation years before school;

  • a new premium worth £2.5 billion targeted on the educational development of disadvantaged pupils, and
  • the 5 to 16s schools budget rising by 0.1 per cent in real terms each year

But if GRT children don’t attend school, and there are no specialist Traveller Teachers, how is this money going to benefit them? The pupil absence statistics published a couple of weeks ago tell us that absence rates are highest of all ethnic groups for Irish Travellers at 23% and next highest for Gypsy/Roma pupils at 18%, and we know that the real figures are probably much worse, because of the reluctance of GRT pupils and their parents to declare themselves.

The local authority does have a statutory requirement under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 to monitor and assess the impact of their policies on children from GRT background. Assuming that the Government aren’t going to water down this obligation, and bearing in mind that GRT children are the lowest achieving groups at all Key Stages, we need to know what strategies the Government are going to adopt with a view to eliminating under-achievement, and in particular, what they intend doing about projects launched by the previous administration.

We believe there may be some funding for elective home education to carry on with the E-lamp projects, which came to an end in July, but may be continued in another form as part of the Home Access programme which focuses on providing packages to families with children who have profound disabilities or special educational needs,

The GRT Achievement Project is another important initiative to raise the attendance and achievement of Gypsy and Traveller pupils in school, with the participation of their parents. There’s no doubt that in the past many Gypsy parents have had difficulty in seeing the benefits of education beyond a certain level, and if they can be engaged, it would raise attendance and achievement.

These and other initiatives in GRT education were discussed with the Minister Nick Gibb MP when we had a meeting with him on October 14. He had offered us half an hour, but we continued for well over an hour, and it appeared that he was genuinely interested in what the ACERT representatives and our colleagues from NATT+ had to say. It makes a lot of sense for us to have a joint approach wherever possible in our dealings with the DfE and I think we made a good impression on a Minister who seemed to be receptive. But since Coalition policy says we are going to make a vigorous attack on disadvantage, there’s a problem. The number of Traveller Teachers is going down, as local authorities make use of their new freedom, and there’s no alternative on the horizon for raising standards, just at the moment when Gypsy leaders are keen on getting their kids into vocational programmes like plumbing and electrictity. This came out plainly at the third Gypsy and Traveller Educational Forum held yesterday at the DfE, and I’m optimistic that GRT families too have begun to realise that to escape from poverty and disadvantage they need a big educational upgrade. We heard about the work being done in Canterbury and neighbouring authorities in Kent, where Gypsy children have no problem in ascribing, numbers have shot up, bullying has gone down, and achievement is steadily improving.

All Change Presentations

The Future of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Inclusion in the New Coalition Era

An ACERT organised one-day inter-agency conference chaired by Richard O’Neill was held on 5 November at the Friends House, on Euston Road in London.

Presentations and other documents from the conference can be downloaded from this site.

Lord Avebury’s Keynote speech can be read here.

Marc Willers

Site provision in the future

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Arthur Ivatts

A View of Current Priorities for GR&T in the Context of “Cuts”!

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Assen Slavchev

Good Educational Practices of Roma-Lom Foundation

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Jacqueline Bolton

Here’s a Health…

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Bill Holland

Let’s Agree Where We Are Going?

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Chrissy Meleady MBE

Building Futures: Developing Trust

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Lord Avebury

Address to the ACERT AGM 2010

September 25th 2010

I’m supposed to be giving a ‘coalition update’, and whoever thought up that title may have imagined that as a member of one of the coalition parties I would have some idea of what has been going on behind the scenes. Let me admit frankly that I have no inside knowledge and know only what I read in the papers. Ministers are aware of my interest in the rights of Gypsies and Travellers over the last half century, but none have been in touch or asked my advice. I did see the way the wind was blowing when Caroline Spelman published her ‘Open Source Planning Green Paper’ before the election and wrote to her with some detailed criticisms. But she didn’t respond, and the communications with Ministers since the election have been one-sided. Continue reading “Lord Avebury”

Chair’s Report at AGM 2010

September 25th 2010

I would like to thank the ACERT Executive Committee for their continued support over these busy and uncertain times.

ACERT has been proactive in the past year. There have been meetings with the DCSF and I would like to thank Geoff Brown and Andrea Smith for arranging and chairing the joint discussions with NATT+ which have kept us informed with the development of the stakeholders group and relevant issues relating to Travellers and education policies. Continue reading “Chair’s Report at AGM 2010”

Annual General Meeting 2010

This year’s AGM took place in late September, once again in The Community Rooms in Millman Street, London.

A well attended meeting heard Lord Avebury give the opening speech on coalition related issues and then listened to presentations on E-LAMP by Ken Marks and Kate D’Arcy and Appleby On the Hoof by David Sheard and Hugh Stanners. There were also reports by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England by Katy Swaine, Emma Nuttall spoke about Friends & Families of Travellers and Lucy Beckett talked about the Traveller Reform Project. Heather Bottomley invited comments on the DfE Early Years call for evidence consultation and Lucie Fremlova spoke briefly about Equality, the new charity supporting Roma. The Chair of ACERT Pat Barr also gave her report on the year and the treasurer Helen Creedon gave a finance update. Continue reading “Annual General Meeting 2010”

AGM 2009: Keynote Speech

By Lord Avebury

Introduction

Delighted to be with you once again and to have this opportunity of discussing with you some of the human rights issues that affect the Gypsy Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities; what developments there have been over the last 12 months, and what are the prospects for change, either for better or for worse, over the coming year.

Progress Report on Gypsy and Traveller Policy

Ever since I first became involved in the needs of Travellers more than 40 years ago, the shortage of sites where Travellers could stop lawfully has been at the same time their main preoccupation, and the principal reason why they experience greater disadvantage than any other ethnic minority in accessing all other public services and health and education in particular. For the time being, the effects of the legislation of five years ago have yet to be visible on the ground. The assessments of need have been completed, draft strategies have been published, and some of them have been consulted upon, leading finally to detailed lists of the number of additional pitches that are to be provided in each District by 2011, for which the local authorities are supposed to allocate the land in a development plan document. The two regions that have got this far already are the East and the South West – and in retrospect it was unfortunate that in the legislation there was no schedule of dates by which the various stages had to be completed, with the result that some regions are far ahead of others. But even in the regions where they have got as far as the allocation of pitches to Districts, being realistic there isn’t a chance of getting the numbers that are wanted by 2011. The Government’s first annual Progress Report on Gypsy and Traveller Policy in July found that the proportion of caravans on unauthorised pitches decreased from 22% in January 2007 to 20% in January 2009, so at that rate of progress it would still be 18% in 2011.

There’s another caveat even with the small reduction of caravans on unauthorised sites in the bare figures. The Progress Report shows that half the planning appeals that were granted in the year to end March 2009 were granted only for a temporary period, storing up the demand for permanent accommodation rather than satisfying it.

In the East Region, where more Travellers live than any other by a long chalk, the minimum additional requirement for the period 2006-11 was 1,200 and the maximum 3,000, but the experience at grassroots level shows there is no hope of getting even to the lower figure. The year 2007/08 yielded 97 permanent residential pitches and 8 transit pitches, so at this rate it would take at least ten years to get to the minimum for 2011. The report comments that ‘without a significant uplift in provision the region will not meet Plan targets. and if other Regions had got this far in their monitoring it would be the same story throughout England. It was really unfortunate that the East Region only took up £1.3 million of the £9 million grant that was available to them from central Government for site refurbishment, that could have funded quite a few extra pitches. The grants actually awarded between 2006 and 2008 were spent mainly on refurbishment of existing sites, but they paid for 165 new pitches, and brought another 23 pitches back into use.

New Government

Looking ahead, in just over half a year from now, there will almost certainly be a Tory Government, and there are already noises indicating an even harsher environment for Travellers. Jacqui Lait MP, speaking from the front bench in a debate on Gypsy encampments in Wiltshire initiated by another Tory James Gray MP last June, repeated that they would review the Human Rights Act to ensure that it couldn’t be invoked by Travellers in planning cases, though it is impossible to see how any Government could modify the interpretation of the Convention, on which the Act is based. She questioned the very process by which the local authority targets had been reached although it was endlessly debated when the Bill was going through Parliament, and the drafts were subject to painstaking consultation in the regions. She reaffirmed that trespass would be made a criminal offence, and she indicated that with the abolition of regional spatial strategies, local authorities would have absolute discretion over sites within their boundaries. These policies certainly appeal to the Tories who speak on Travellers such as Eric Pickles and John Baron, though I am not sure about Caroline Spelman, now Tory lead on CLG. She has kept her cards pretty close to her chest, but has said she intends to produce a ‘green paper’ before Christmas. That implies consultation by the Party leadership with their rank and file, which might produce some unpalatable results. And of course, even if it takes a Tory Government a little while to change direction, when local authorities realise that there are likely to be no penalties for doing nothing to achieve the regional targets, the attempt to find suitable land is going to slow down or stop altogether.

I see now that the Tories have also begun to think about their first education Bill, and what a Tory source described to The Guardian as an ‘appallingly long list of things to drop in the bin’ as regards schools. In the search for cuts, it would be a total disaster if they had the Traveller Education Service in their sights. The Equality and Human Rights Commission review of inequalities experienced by the communities says again that Gypsy and Traveller children’s achievement remains sharply below that of all other groups and this inequality is increasing. They give detailed examples illustrating the severity of the disadvantage suffered by Irish Traveller and Gypsy/Roma children, which may be compounded by the propensity to go for EHE. The arrangements for EHE are poorly monitored and supported, but to put this right will require more, not less resources. More effort is also needed evidently on tackling the reasons given by parents for choosing EHE: fear of cultural erosion, lack of relevance of the secondary curriculum, and fear of racial bullying. Some secondary schools have been relatively successful in countering these factors, and some of the 17 recommendations for tackling educational inequality would clearly encourage Traveller to keep their children past the transition from primary that is all too often the end of school. The development of positive home-school partnerships, and the appointment of a race equality champion, for instance are likely to have positive effects anyway, but would reduce the distrust of secondary education by GRT parents. But as you would expect, nearly all of the recommendation are likely to demand extra resources. At a time when every Party is talking about cuts, its going to be a hard struggle to persuade any Government to stump up the money that it would cost to make a real impact on GRT educational inequality.

DCSF Traveller Forum

A hopeful sign, as I’m sure you know, is the decision by the DCSF Minister Vernon Coaker, following the meeting I had with officials at the DCSF in July, and with the Minister on August 26, to establish a DCSF Traveller Forum. The first members have already been invited, and the initial meeting is at the end of October. This Forum can I hope review the EHRC’s education recommendations and say what priority they would attach to them – and I would also hope that ACERT decide to make comments on that chapter and indeed on the review as a whole.

This review was the second major piece of work the EHRC have published this year. In the previous one, from March, they set themselves as well as others some objectives. They are integrating their Gypsy and Traveller work into their local government programme; engaging political parties in a dialogue about good relations with the GRT communities; working with the media to improve their reporting of GRT stories, and documenting and reporting local authority good practice. Maybe ACERT can get into conversation with them so they get to know what members are doing in the schools, and if you have examples of best practice you can share with them, it would be great.

Education and Health

There is an obvious connection between education and health disadvantage in Gypsy/Traveller communities. Their lack of education can make them distrustful of all professionals, and therefore reluctant to access health services, even if they can overcome barriers such as the lack of a permanent address which is often demanded for registration. The EHRC review points to studies that indicate the effectiveness of peer educators in facilitating access and they single out the Sussex Traveller Women’s Health Project as a particularly impressive example. The inadequate evidence we have is that Traveller women’s health in particular is a great deal worse than for the population generally, with poor take-up of preventive services and high rates of maternal death in pregnancy and after childbirth. It would be really useful if the EHRC is going to document the experience of successful local authorities like Sussex and Derbyshire to promote similar initiatives elsewhere.

The few health studies that have something to say about the comparative health of settled Travellers and those moving from one unauthorised site to another indicate, as you would expect, that the latter are more likely to incur serious illness and early death. If we really wanted to reduce the inequality and disadvantage suffered by the Traveller community, the best way forward would be to halt evictions from land owned by the Travellers themselves, as long as the local authority is unable to offer the residents an alternative. It must be far more difficult to assert the rights owing to all citizens, if you don’t know where you’re going to be tomorrow. The Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green has intervened in the case of one extended family of 60 Travellers including ten children and one mentally disabled young person of 20 who were going to be evicted from their own land at the end of August following a court order confirmed by the court of appeal, but it seems likely the bailiffs will go in and kick them all onto the street next week. Surely this makes no sense, when apart from the immediate expense of the bailiffs, there are long term effects on the ability of the whole family to make any useful contribution to society.

The Future

We recognise that people have the right to live in caravans if that is part of their culture, but we have made it impossible for one in five Travellers to do that, by failing to provide the necessary amount of land for them under our planning system in the past. Having now made changes in the law intended to remedy the shortage, requiring less than one square mile in bits spread across the whole of England, we should stop making Travellers homeless as long as local authorities drag their feet.

I look forward to the day when there are more than enough members of the GRT communities to argue their own case with local authorities and central Government. I’m proud that the DCSF Forum is going to be doing that very soon, and I salute the contribution ACERT members are making to the improvement of Travellers’ capacity to look after themselves in dealing with authority. In our complex society, those who get no further than primary education are seriously handicapped not only in their choice of occupation, but in their ability to make themselves heard and assert their own human rights. The Gypsy/Traveller communities have produced some powerful advocates, but nothing like enough yet to make a real difference. You are helping to put that right.

Annual General Meeting 2009

This year’s AGM took place in late September, again in The Community Rooms in Millman Street, London. A well attended meeting heard Lord Avebury give the keynote speech. David Sheard of Cumbria County Council speaking about this year’s Appleby on the Hoof and a viewing of the DVD “Road to Success” were other highlights.

Keynote Speech

Eric Avebury delivered his speech at the AGM. You can read his thoughts in full by following the link below. He gave a view on the shortage of sites in the UK and reported on the Government’s first annual progress report on Gypsy and Traveller policy. With a possible change of Government in 2010 Eric gave a view on the possible impact on GRT communities and Traveller Education Services. Finally, he looks forward to the decision to establish a DCSF Traveller Forum.

Read Lord Avebury’s speech here

Education on the Hoof DVD

The DVD “Education on the Hoof” made at this year’s Appleby Fair was shown at the AGM. We have been granted permission to show the clip on our site. This film was made by Simon Evans.

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Education on the Hoof

The PowerPoint Presentation of Education on the Hoof can be downloaded and viewed offline below.

Education on the Hoof 2009 [1.2mb]

Reminiscence

Cambridgeshire Race Equality and Diversity Service

Kate D’Arcy gave everyone present at the AGM copies of the new publication “Reminiscence” produced by CREDs.

Arthur Ivatts writes in the book’s introduction: “This wonderful book of photographs provides a telling story of the many and varied events that took place up and down the country during the month of June in 2008. I am sure the editor, Rose Wilson and her colleagues had an extremely difficult task in the sorting and selection process. We must all be indebted to all of them for this memorable historic archive which will be treasured by so many for so long.”

Further copies of Reminiscence are available for just £1.50.

Contact Kate D’Arcy: kate.d’arcy@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

Cambridgeshire Race Equality and Diversity Service (Resources)

Team for Traveller Education
CPDC
Foster Road
Cambridge
Cambridgeshire
CB2 9NL

01223 508 700

Annual Report 2008-9

This year has been a productive one in many ways. There have been regular meetings with the DCSF where Gypsy, Roma and Traveller issues are discussed and we are beginning to see ways forward to building on the area of community involvement. The Appleby Fair On the Hoof project was very successful and this was aided by Cumbria’s Community Service involvement that supported the event.

Download and read the full Annual Report [Word Doc 7MB]