Romas and travellers fare worst in school exams

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The performance of Irish traveller and Roma pupils at school has slumped alarmingly in the past five years.

The number of youngsters from both groups achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE since 2002 has fallen dramatically, according to a study by the Bow group, a moderate Conservative think-tank, published today.

The fall comes despite the introduction of a national programme to meet the needs of Roma and traveller children launched in September 2006.

For Irish travellers, the percentage achieving the highest marks has been cut by more than half falling from 41.6 per cent in 2003 to just 15.6 per cent in 2007. The proportion achieving five top grades including maths and English is even lower just 8.4 per cent.

For Roma children, the percentage with five top-grade passes has fallen from 23.2 per cent to 14 per cent with just 7 per cent achieving the benchmark in maths and English.

The study points out that they are the only two ethnic groups in the country whose school performance has worsened year-on-year.

The Bow Group's Chris Skidmore, who conducted the research, said: "These figures reveal how traveller children are being ignored and left behind by our education system.

"Not only are their poor results in stark contrast to other ethnic groups, we have witnessed a collapse in their educational attainment in the past five years, so that the number of gypsies remaining in further education after 16 is down to single figures.

"This level of under-achievement in 21st-century society is truly shocking. They are the forgotten minority whom we should be doing far more to help."

One of the reasons put forward for the decline is the buoyant economy: educationists believe traveller parents think their children will get jobs in areas such as construction and therefore do not need formal schooling. And those living in circuses may go to a different school each week.