The number of Travellers attaining Junior and Leaving Certificates, and hence progressing to higher-level education remains well below the levels of non-Traveller peers. Low levels of attainment and the lack of validation of the Traveller way of life within the education system are a key concern of Traveller parents and within the Traveller community.
The ITM was involved in the development of a National Traveller Education Strategy in 2006. However, the key challenge is to ensure that the effective implementation of its recommendations are achieved. The long-term legacy that ITM envisages is that Travellers will be attending all levels of education and have confidence in their identity within a whole school environment where diversity is valued and where more Travellers view education as one of the valid means to fulfil their own potential.
The 2011 Census, only 8% of Travellers complete education to Leaving Certifiate Level, compared with 73% for non-Travellers. Only 1% of Travellers aged 25-64 have a college degree compared with 30% for non-Travellers. Travellers are more likely to leave school early, with 28% of Travellers leaving before the age of 13, compared with 1% of non-Travellers (source ESRI A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland).
Historically Travellers were often marginalised in the education system. Into the 1990s Travellers were often educated through segregated provision. Evidence has shown that Traveller-only schools and Traveller-only classes have produced poorer outcomes for Travellers, with many leaving school without any formal qualifications and with low levels of literacy and numeracy.
Segregated provision of education for Travellers also led to huge stigmatisation, given that the Government policy stated that “where the number of itinerant [sic] children, by itself, would not warrant the establishment of a special class, it may be possible to establish a class for educationally retarded children, or to provide remedial teaching, which could also serve the needs of itinerant children requiring assistance” (Educational facilities for the children of Itinerants, 1970). However the same State document saw special classes and schools for Travellers as a temporary measure and that “when the children are prepared and ready for placement in ordinary classes they should be encouraged to make the transition and should be assisted in overcoming their initial difficulties; and arrangements for transfer should be made after consultation with the parents and with the teachers and managers involved”.
Yet, despite this document seeing segregation as a temporary measure, Traveller-only classes did not end in Ireland until 2004 and one Traveller-only school still exists. Segregated education failed consistently in that Travellers who were forced into Traveller-only schools or classes left education with sub-standard outcomes, were stigmatised for attending “special classes” and also permitted the barriers that existed between Travellers and settled people to persist, in that children from both ethnic groups that attending the same school were denied any opportunity to develop friendships and learn about each other’s heritage and background, which has had hugely detrimental effects over the last thirty years for Irish Society and its attempts to deal positively with diversity.
There are no national statistics for Traveller attainment in literacy or numeracy, and only recently was there an assessment to see whether anecdotal evidence from Traveller organisations regarding poor outcomes for Travellers in education were borne out. The Survey of Traveller Education Provision (2006) showed that the levels of achievement of Traveller pupils were not on a par with their non-Traveller peers. An analysis of standardised test results showed that 67.4% of Travellers were reading at or below the lowest 20% quartile and in numeracy, 62.1% of Travellers surveyed were in the lowest 20%. Some Traveller parents expressed their deep concerns about the low attainment of their children, particularly in relation to reading standards. The inspectors observed that pupils were frequently assigned low-level tasks that did not challenge and extend them sufficiently. Many pupils did not engage in whole-class activities especially in such areas as History, Geography or Science. The survey also drew attention to the poor retention rate of Traveller pupils at post-primary level, with many pupils leaving school early and without qualifications.