Education – Key Issues

What we are working towards: “Equality of outcomes for Travellers in education, where Travellers are welcomed and valued; with high expectations for Travellers in an inclusive, intercultural environment.”

The key issues sadly remains that Travellers are not benefitting from the Irish education system. Far too few Travellers are achieving to their ability, and those that do, are doing in schools which promote and celebrate Traveller identity in a whole school environment that celebrates diversity and inclusion.

In order to bring about systemic change, ITM has lobbied for changes in education policy, funding and delivery to embed equality in education. The key issues in relation to this are failure to implement existing policies and the current underfunding of Traveller education.

Policy Implementation
Traveller organisations, including the Irish Traveller Movement, committed extensive resources into ensuring that the genuine concerns of Traveller parents and learners was to the forefront in the development of a Traveller Education Strategy back in 2005/6; however, since its initial launch in 2006 we have been disappointed with regard to the lack of implementation of many of the proposed plans of action. The initial failure of the document can be garnered from its title: “Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy” as Traveller groups were under the impression that the investment in time would lead to a clear document/strategy that would map out short, medium and long-term goals which would be led up by the Department of Education (with the participation of key stakeholders) who would report back to the then Advisory Committee on Traveller Education.

The Traveller Education Strategy however does not to date have an implementation plan with associated deliverables and deadlines; as a result progress on its implementation has been remarkably slow. The report is over 10 years old, there are a number of chapters where none of the recommendations have been implemented, and many of the recommendations that were implemented have since been dismantled (e.g. Visiting Teachers for Travellers).

In order to ensure that the process of implementation does not become so piecemeal as to render it ineffective it is essential that an implementation plan be developed in collaboration with Traveller organisations and key departments/agencies. The European Commission principles for Roma Inclusion stress the importance of including civil society and Travellers in any decisions which are made that will impact on their lives. This recommendation is in line with that of the European Commission which noted in its feedback that detailing a calendar, targets, indicators and budget will secure the implementation of the strategy (National Traveller and Roma Integration Strategy).

The ITM recommend that there is a coordinated approach to overseeing the development and implementation of a (S.M.AR.T.) strategy for Traveller education. That along with Traveller organisation that there is a specific structure put in place which has an independent chair and where all the key departments/agencies with responsibility for actions within the strategy are represented and that the recommendations coming from this structure would feed into the relevant Minister’s including Education & Skills and Minister O’Riordain chairing the NTRIS. Suggested action relating to this would be to form a Traveller Education subgroup of the NTRIS which would include in addition to existing members of the Forum the other departments/agencies with responsibilities for Traveller Education (including department of Children and Youth Affairs, SOLAS, HEA) and that this structure in line with good practice and other structures including the NTACC would have an independent chair

Impact of the Cuts to Traveller Education
The ITM are concerned that the only real tangible outcomes to date from the RRTES has been to remove 86.6% of the Traveller Education budget ( €76.5m to €10.2m) and that this has been carried out under the explanation from the DES that is was in the interest of promoting a more “inclusion” education system for Travellers while failing to provide any resources that might promote inclusion within the Irish Education system for Travellers.

While the Irish Traveller Movement long campaigned for inclusion in education, with resources allocated based on educational need and not ethnic identity, we were highly critical of the instantaneous removal of supports for Traveller children in primary and post-primary education.

The removal of the Visiting Teacher Service for Travellers (VTST) in 2011 of a system whereby 40 positions created and maintained links between Traveller families and schools saved the €2.4m. The impact has been witnessed in a number of areas:

  • The VTST was the primary source for gathering information on Traveller access and participation in education. With the removal of this system, the Department no longer has any mechanism to ascertain what levels Travellers are participating within the education system, and more worryingly, what impact the severe cuts to Traveller supports are having on Travellers’ educational experience.
  • The VTST was the primary link between schools and families. With its sudden removal, some families who had tenuous links with their schools were left with no direct link or information on how to access book loans and grant schemes. They also played a crucial role in supporting families without experience of post-primary education to ease the transition to a new school environment.
  • The VTST frequently supported parents to ensure that schools enrolled Traveller students, often through the means of a Section 29 appeal under the Education Act 1998. Without that support, the ITM is aware of Traveller children being refused access to the school of their choice without local supports to bring about a Section 29.

In the absence of the VTST, a targeted support aiming to improve access for Travellers in education, our members, Local Traveller organisations – already under pressure due to the high impact of austerity measures on Travellers’ lives and working under reduced resources – are now trying to support families in relation to education. They are noting a decrease in Traveller participation in education, especially in relation to post-primary education. The advances made in Traveller participation in post-primary, albeit slow progress, risks being undermined in a very short term due to the unplanned measures that aim to reduce spending and that are “spun” as a measure to improve “inclusion” in Irish education for Travellers.

Positive Action
There is a need for positive action programmes to be developed by HEI’s, which target and support students from the Travelling Community to become qualified in a range of professions and areas of work. The RCSI Traveller Access should be viewed as a model of good practice in this area. In particular there is a need for affirmative action to include Travellers in the delivery of education across all levels of education. Travellers should be encouraged and supported to pursue careers in education as teachers and teaching assistants at preschool, primary, post primary level and third level. Affirmative action measure should also be put in place to up skill and employ Travellers to be employed by Department of Education and Skills as Community Education Workers as well as in other posts within the education system.

Having members of the Traveller community involved in the education system would have a multitude of benefits including: providing positive role models for young Travellers, challenging prejudice and stereotypes in the education system, building trust between Traveller parents and the education system and finally providing much needed employment for Travellers. A range of academic articles have highlighted the importance and benefits of including role models from minorities in the education system. There a number of examples of good practice include the RCSI Traveller Access programme which has demonstrated how investment in affirmative action has proven it does result in Travellers take up and attainment of professions including the medical profession.

What we will do:
  • Support the development and expansion of the Yellow Flag Programme in order that it is mainstreamed for all primary and post primary schools
  • Develop and promote evidence-based research to feed into key statutory forums such as the NTRIS, Traveller Education Strategy Consultative Advisory Forum (TESCAF) and education policies of all political parties
  • Work to promote strong relationships between Traveller parents, young Travellers and school practitioners
  • Work with our members and a range of stakeholders to pilot a programme whereby Travellers are supported to become teachers in the education system
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