Travellers and literacy

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Travellers and literacy

Traveller education services in local authorities provide provide support and advice for Traveller communities and in-class support for schools with Traveller children. Contact your local authority to find out about provision for Travellers in your area. According to official statisitcs in 2007, there are over 8,000 children of traveller heritage in the school system. They are the worst performing ethnic group in Britain with 3.9% achieving five top GSCE passes including English and maths in 2006. Local authorities with high numbers of Traveller children in schools can qualify for additional money from the Vulnerable Children's Grant.

Romas and Travellers fare worst in school exams

The Times has reported that the academic performance of Irish Traveller and Roma pupils has decreased over the past five years. The Bow Group study shows that pupils in these groups achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE has fallen dramatically, despite a national programme to support Traveller children launched in 2006. Irish Traveller pupils who achieved the highest marks fell from 41.6% in 2003 (Roma 23.2%) to 15.6% in 2007 (Roma 14%), with the proportion of those achieving five good GCSE including maths and English at 8.4% (Roma 7%).

(The Times, 17 December 2007)

A Curriculum for Excellence helps Scottish Traveller children

The TES reported that Scotland's Traveller children will benefit from school-based education more than ever, thanks to A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE). People working with Traveller children on a daily basis believe the curriculum will make school more relevant, and there are some signs of a new willingness for children to go on to secondary school. This is a huge step forward, as formal education for Travellers often stops after primary school due to parents fears that their children will be bullied and assimilated into another way of life. The flexibilty of the curriculum meant that skills common to Traveller communities could be applied to the four 'capacities' of ACE. One worker said: Acknowledgement of Travellers skills might counter negative feelings about not being on a par in literacy and numeracy.

(TESS, 28 September 2007)

Easier ways of returning library materials for Travellers

The Society of Chief Librarians has agreed that: Children and young people who are Travellers, looked-after, refugees or asylum-seekers - and their parents or carers - can return library materials to any library in the UK (also without any overdue charges being made), and that the library will then make arrangements to return the items to the originating library free-of-charge.

This ground-breaking decision removing one of the barriers to use of libraries by people who are on the move came about through collaboration between ASCEL, The Network, YASP and SCL, following the raising of this issue by a number of library services.

(The Network press release, January 2006)

Study offers new insight into Traveller pupils' underachievement

A five-year investigation into the schooling of Traveller children has shed new light on the factors behind their chronic underachievement and high drop-out rate. Ofsted has described Traveller pupils as the group most at risk in the English education system, and has estimated that 12,000 secondary-aged teenagers are not enrolled at a school.

Its concerns are borne out by the study, conducted by Chris Derrington of Northampton University and Sally Kendall of the National Foundation for Educational Research.

They tracked 44 Traveller children from the age of 11 to 16 and found that only three of them (7 per cent) achieved five or more A*-C GCSEs this summer (the national average was 61 per cent). In total, 10 of the 44 gained five or more A*-G GCSEs (23 per cent, compared with a national average of 98 per cent).

However, the overall achievement rates for the teenagers are almost certainly worse than even these disappointing figures because most of the young people tracked by the study team were living either on official sites or in houses and had good primary-school attendance records.

The researchers, who presented their findings at the European Conference on Educational Research, said only 13 of the 44 had completed key stage 4. The other 31 youngsters had dropped out for a range of reasons.

More than half the parents expected their children to fulfil traditional, gender-based roles in adult life. These parents assumed their sons and daughters would leave school by the age of 14. One girl, who was still 12 at the time, told the researchers: Next year, I'll be at home learning how to clean up... helping my mum. We don't really get jobs. We usually stay at home until we're 18 or 19 and then get married and be a housewife.

(TES, 16 September 2005)

Acute problems for Traveller children

At least half of all Traveller children drop out of school between key stages 1 and 4, says a report on ethnic minority pupils. The report, published by the Department for Education and Skills, also found high exclusion rates among Traveller children in general and revealed that in 2002/3, children of Irish heritage were more likely to be permanently excluded than any other group.

It also draws attention to the difficulties faced by Black children at school. Black Caribbean and other Black boys were twice as likely as White British boys to be categorised as having behavioural, emotional or social difficulty.

(Children Now, 10 February 2005)

Secondary education is failing young Travellers

The inflexibility of secondary school curricula is one of the reasons why young people from Traveller and Gypsy backgrounds are failing in education, a study by the University of Derby said in March 2004.

The study, carried out by student Paul Harman, found that the number of young Traveller people in education dropped radically in the transfer from primary schools to secondary schools. Only one in five Traveller children moved on to secondary school, despite a 95% attendance at primary level.

All children should be given the opportunity for education, but it needs to be made suitable for them, said Harman. Traveller families tend to value the need for reading and writing skills but after the age of 11 they expect their children to start working with the family business. Having more vocational courses for young people in schools would help them see the benefit, as well as a liaison officer based in schools who understands their culture.

(Young People Now, 31 March 2004)

Link: Find out more about this study by visiting

Ofsted report reveals deep-seated prejudice towards Traveller pupils

An Ofsted report on provision for Traveller children in schools makes shocking reading. It documents bricks being thrown at the caravans of Traveller families and Traveller children who have been refused service in shops. It talks of "deep-seated" prejudice against the Traveller community, and the inhibitive effect this is having on their education.

There are now 12,000 Traveller children not registered in school out of an estimated school-age population of 60-70,000; attendance rate for Traveller children is the lowest of any ethnicity at 75%; and Traveller children have the lowest levels of achievement of any ethnic group.

The vast majority of Traveller pupils linger on the periphery of the education system. The situation has persisted for too long and the alarm bells rung in earlier reports have yet to be heeded, the report says.

Lorna Daymond, head of the local Travellers Education Service (TES) in Norfolk, is not shocked. They are talking about 10-12,000 Traveller children out of school as if it's a surprise. We knew that in 1966, what's new?

Practically every local authority now has a TES. They are at the heart of the battle to get Traveller children into school.

But the issue isn't just about mobility. The curriculum is neither appealing to young Traveller children, nor flexible enough. There are real similarities with black Caribbean boys, says Daymond. There is a feeling that what they are being taught doesn't reflect their lives - when they're looking at images they are thinking, 'where am I in here, where do I fit in?' The child is left asking what this has to do with them.

(The Guardian, 9 December 2003)

Romany language website aims to save culture

A project has been launched to preserve the endangered language and culture of one of the world's most marginalised and maligned populations. Romany is spoken by small groups in 42 European countries but since it has a largely oral tradition and those conversant in it are stateless and scattered, it has been driven to the brink of extinction, appearing on a list published by the University of Manchester of the world's most threatened languages.

The university is now transcribing the many Romany dialects for the first time, and has launched a website allowing people to locate different dialects on a world map and listen to examples of them. It is hoped this will help the Romany people to codify their language and agree on how words are spelt, as well as provide a resource ensuring the language is eventually included in mainstream media and school curriculum.

Professor Yaron Matras, head of the Romany linguistics project at Manchester, said: We also hope it will inspire governments across Europe to develop policy in educational and cultural development.

Many Romany lack access to computers, but those with access have discovered that they may communicate with compatriots as far apart as Norway and eastern Russia. Chatrooms for speakers of the language are beginning to flourish.

Analysis of the Romany language has shown that it is closely related to those spoken in northern India, Punjabi in particular, which is a reflection of the people's geographical origin. Loaned words also make it possible to trace the pattern of their migration west and some of these remain in common parlance, including posh, pal, lollipop and slang words such as shiv or chive (knife) and cooshtie (good).

The website for the project is:

(Independent, 30 January 2006)

Book series aimed at Traveller children

The first book in a series aiming to encourage Traveller children of primary school age to read was published in April 2003. It features colourful photographs and descriptions of traditional wagons, barges and modern caravans, which are compared with the houses and flats of non-Travellers.

Houses and Homes, published by the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group, is the first of a planned 100-plus books, aimed at children in key stages 1, 2 and 3. Series editor Robert Dawson said, Lack of literacy is still often used as a weapon against Travellers, knowing that older ones, especially, cannot read or understand official documents.

Traveller Education Services, which operate throughout the UK and Northern Ireland, were asked to submit ideas on topics of particular interest to Traveller children. Mr Dawson said that, by April 2003, more than 30 education services had made suggestions for forthcoming titles. Houses and Homes was published at the request of Hampshire Traveller Education Service.

Many of the writers, artists and editors are Travellers themselves, and work for free in return for copies of the books. Books are sold at only 50p above the cost of production, and the proceeds are ploughed back into the group to finance future titles.

The majority of the funding has been obtained from a two-year, £30,000 grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, in addition to £3,000 from the Tudor Trust and £2,000 from Connexions.

To order a copy of Houses and Homes, by Gill May and Michelle Nye, send a cheque for £2.95, payable to DGLG, to Richard Dawson, 188 Alfreton Road, Blackwell, Alfreton, Derbyshire DE55 5JH. Email for more information on forthcoming titles.

(Nursery World, 24 April 2003)

The Mobile Library Traveller Project, Essex

The library service in Essex and the Essex Travellers Education Service are bringing books to families living on Traveller sites in the county. Mobile libraries make weekly stops at a number of sites and also at primary schools with a high proportion of Traveller pupils. Preparation for this project included cultural awareness training for librarians and careful selection of stock, to cover subjects known to be of interest to the Traveller community - for example, non-fiction books on animal keeping.

Older adults, who may have low levels of literacy skills, particularly enjoy looking at well-illustrated Traveller heritage books and discussing the photographs, some of which contain extended family members. Many of the children are very enthusiastic, eagerly waiting for the van to arrive each week, and anecdotal evidence suggests that some children are helping their parents learn to read. Future plans include the provision of IT for Traveller families. The work is coordinated by a project manager funded by the Children's Fund Essex, and other partners include the Gypsy Services Team and Sure Start.


The Smiths Secondary Literacy Programme

The National Association of Teachers of Travellers has developed a literacy programme for beginner and non-reading Traveller secondary-aged pupils. It aims to fill the gap between early years and adult literacy material, which was previously the only material generally available to young people with little or no reading experience, as well as reflect the culture of Gypsy or Traveller youngsters and improve self-confidence and esteem. The scheme is based around a short teenage novel, The Smiths, and has been trialled, with success, with Traveller and non-Traveller pupils across the UK. The project was funded by the European commission and the programme is available in Spanish and German. The project is seeking funding to publish the material and make it more readily available.

For more information contact Chris Hart:


Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of Gypsy Traveller Pupils. Guide to good practice produced by the Department for Education and Skills in July 2003. It offers advice and guidance to schools and LEAs, including practical guidance and examples that are shown to work to raise Traveller pupils' achievement and ensure their inclusion in school life, and answers to some frequently asked questions.
Contact: DfES Publications, Tel: 0845 60 222 60 Fax: 0845 60 333 60 Email: Quote reference DfES/0443/2003. Or download from

Early years outreach practice: supporting early years practitioners working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families. Save the Children, 2007. Available to download as a pdf (705 Kb) from

Further information from the Department for Education and Skills:

Inclusive Educational Approaches for Gypsies and Travellers. Guidance produced by the Scottish Traveller Education Programme (STEP). Available from

Reading materials. Karen Taylor has written a number of 20-page A5 books reflecting the experiences of Traveller children.
Contact: Handsome Prints, Durrows, Quarry Lane, Kelsall, Cheshire CW6 OPD. Tel: 01829 751097. Email:

The Smiths Secondary Literacy Programme, developed as part of a National Association of Teachers of Travellers project (see above for details), supports secondary-aged beginner readers. The programme contains six copies of the specially-written novel with dual language text, a literacy programme in four stages which take the pupil from non-reading to level 3, and a reference section to support independent learning. The programme includes worksheets on vocabulary acquisition, phonics, grammar and punctuation, dictionary skills and independent writing. It has built-in assessment and revision opportunities. The first print run is sold out; there is currently a waiting list to generate orders to cover costs of second print run. Cost £150 (£5 off for Traveller Education Services buying first set). Novels can be purchased separately, six for £12 plus p&p, or 30 for £55 plus p&p.
Contact: Sallie Gurney, West Midlands Consortium Education Service for Travelling Children, The Graiseley Centre, Pool Street, Wolverhampton WV2 4NE. Tel: 01902 714646. Email:

University of Hertfordshire Press, produce a number of books on Travellers. Information about these can be found on

Voices website:

Wild Call has produced two picture books for under-fives and are developing worksheets and CDRoms to accompany them. The books show modern gypsy life in colourful photographs and would be useful to any school or group who work with travellers. For more information visit

Working Towards Inclusive Practice: Gypsy/Roma and Traveller cultural awareness training and activities for early years settings Save the Children Fund

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