Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Traveller children's education slips down list of council priorities
BY LAUREN HIGGS
Wednesday, 04 May 2011
Campaigners express concern over public service cuts and measures in the Localism Bill that are likely to have a detrimental effect on the educational opportunities of Gypsy and Traveller children.
Fears are growing that many Traveller children will end up out of school. Image: Tom Campbell
Forced evictions and dwindling support services for Gypsy and Traveller children are obstructing their access to education as a result of cuts to local authority support and measures in the government's Localism Bill, CYP Now has learned.
Anthea Wormington, policy officer at the National Association of Teachers of Travellers, said that Traveller education services are being scaled back or scrapped altogether in many areas.
"Most Traveller education services are experiencing cuts. The picture is changing daily, but it's pretty dire and London has been hit particularly hard," she said.
"Until now, we've had a network of Traveller education services around the country, so if a Traveller family was planning a move we would call up our colleagues in the area where they were moving to and get them to arrange the children's education.
"That won't be possible any more, so I fear that the children just won't end up in school, especially secondary school age children."
Some local authorities are continuing to pay for Traveller education services through their ethnic minority achievement grants, but campaigners are worried that this method of funding is unsustainable.
"That ethnic minority achievement grant is going to go into the dedicated schools grant from next year, so the future doesn't look good," Wormington said.
But a Department for Education spokesman said changes to the funding stream should not impact upon children. "This is not about removing support," he said.
"We have de-ringfenced a number of grants to give heads more flexibility and control over their own budgets because they know their own pupils best.
"And the pupil premium, which targets money at the most disadvantaged pupils, will rise to £2.5bn and will be given directly to heads so they can use it as they deem appropriate."
Gill Brown, spokeswoman for the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, claimed that plans included in the Localism Bill are also likely to disrupt the education of Gypsy and Traveller children.
This is because the bill includes proposals to revoke official guidance on Gypsy and Traveller sites to allow local areas more control over planning decisions.
Increased local determination, Brown argued, will lead to an increase in forced evictions, such as that which occurred at the Dale Farm site in Essex last month, where more than 80 families were evicted.
"We believe leaving these decisions to local areas will lead to an increase in evictions of Gypsies and Travellers, which in turn has a detrimental effect on children's education," Brown said.
"Regional government offices have also been dismantled. So with the disappearance of regional strategies for Gypsies and Travellers and the erosion of local Traveller education services, the education of more children and young people is under threat.
"When an eviction caused a family to pull their children out of school in the past, the Traveller education services were there to intervene, but now they will not be able to carry out that outreach work."
Cliff Codona, chair of the National Travellers Action Group, warned that Gypsy and Traveller families across the country are in "desperate situations".
"The Traveller education services were always there in the past, but now they are disappearing so things are getting harder and harder," he said. "The money for Traveller education services is going into the ethnic minority achievement pot - and we're at the bottom of that pot."
He claimed that councils are failing to communicate with local Gypsy and Traveller communities. "Local authorities are not engaging with people to let them know what's happening, so Gypsy and Traveller families do not know who to contact for support," he said. "When people have problems, there is no one there for them to go to.
"Things were starting to get better under the last government, but we are one group of people that this government couldn't care less about."
18,146 - Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England (on both authorised and unauthorised sites)
Source: Count of Gypsy and Traveller Caravans July 2010, Department for Communities and Local Government
35.5% - Of Travellers of Irish heritage children reached expected level in reading at Key Stage 1 (national average 84.7%)
Source: Department for Education
8.3% - Of Gypsy and Roma children achieved five or more A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths (national average 54.8%)
Source: Department for Education
Posted by Morgan at 11:15 AM