Gypsy, Roma or Traveller (GRT) children face severe oppression at the hands of the education sector and society as a whole.

14 July 2021

smashing the crystal ball

The system is irredeemably flawed.

Racist

Classist

Ablest

Homophobic

Sexist

Ageist

And the list goes on…

One group most certainly failed again and again by not only the system but also by society as a whole, including those who claim to fight for equity, are Gypsy, Roma or Traveller (GRT) children.

The ostracisation experienced by these children comes from all areas of society. Often branded as thieves, troublemakers and school avoiders, there are few spaces within which GRT children can exist on a level playing field with their white British counterparts. Whilst in the past the nomadic nature of their background, alongside their parents’ mistrust of and reluctance to engage with the education system, exacerbated the serial non-attendance associated with GRT children, things are changing; Many younger GRT parents are encouraging of their children’s school education. Additionally, many GRT families live on settled sites, or in houses. Yet, the school attendance (or lack thereof) of GRT children is still a huge issue.

Why are they not attending?

Why are they not making it to college…university?

It is not good enough to revert to blaming their nomadic culture and historically tenuous relationship with the UK Education System. It is also lazy and a convenient buck-passing exercise.

The truth is that they are being systematically failed.

 

That is why they are not at school.

 

That is why they are not in higher education.

 

That is why they are not visible in many careers requiring any type of academic qualification.

 

Scrap that…The system failing them is why they are not visible in most areas of society.

On the days that GRT children brace themselves and make it into school, they are hit by a barrage of negativity; From the often unpunished bullying at the hands of their classmates, to the microaggressive comments from their teachers. Not to mention the patronising conversations from staff members claiming to care about their futures, but actually just eager to keep their school’s attendance figures up. If you knew that this is what would face you 195 days of the year, would you attend? I know I wouldn’t.

Even if by some miracle they are able to push past the above, much like their black and Asian counterparts, they are faced with a curriculum within which they are not reflected IN ANY WAY. They do not get to read about the achievements of GRT people or explore and celebrate their rich and varied past. They also do not get to learn about and reflect upon a history that has included chattel slavery and genocide. Similarly, their non-GRT classmates are also not afforded the opportunity to study the histories and traditions of GRT people; this further erasing them. Arriving home, GRT children do not see themselves in the glossy pages of Vogue magazine, the Maybelline advert, the car insurance advert, or strutting across Albert Square. They are not greeted in shops by or treated in the hospital by a GRT person. When they are represented in the media, it is through such vessels as ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, in which larger-than-life, one-dimensional representations of GRT people are shown. Just as damaging are the romanticised and mythical representations, parodied fancy dress costumes and crystal balls, alongside the hyper-sexualised representative of GRT women. All of which mainstream society is yet to see as a problem. All of which are far removed and detached from the reality of GRT life. 

Is there any hope for change?

In Ireland, Education Minister, Richard Burton has publically declared that he will look into ways to integrate the history of the Irish traveller community into the school curriculum. Other small successes are happening, like in the university in Pembrokeshire which has seen, with the offering support which affords them equitable standing, a number of GRT women graduate.

But. It. Is. Not. Enough.

Cuts to GRT charities and schemes aimed at increasing attendance adds to the bleakness of the situation. Every day more cuts are occurring. When education ‘experts’ come together to discuss which oppressed group they will ‘save’ that year, GRT children are often overlooked, or reduced to figures and statistics. 

I, for one, am sick of reading whimsical quotes about ‘free and wild gypsy hearts’ whilst I live in a society that seems hellbent on taking away the freedom of GRT children.