Travelling circuses could be hit with an exodus of performers as a result of proposed new education reforms, entertainers have warned.
Parents working in circuses and fairgrounds fear they will be forced to give up their jobs or face criminal prosecution, as a consequence of a Government proposals aimed at improving school attendance.
The Department of Education is considering whether to close an exemption that means traveller parents who educate their children on the road are not required to ensure their children go to school every day. The consultation on repealing section 444(6) of the Education Act closed last month.
The move could have a “huge knock-on effect” on circuses with experienced professionals forced to give up their careers, according to one producer. Zoe Munn, producer at the NoFit State circus, said a change to the law “basically criminalises people like us, which is ridiculous” adding to her fears that children will be “chucked out of the system”. She has worked at the company for 15 years as a full-time performer and subsequently as a full-time producer after the birth of her second child.
Ms Munn said: “It would significantly affect circuses in this country, giving us some very difficult choices personally and professionally.”
Currently, children with travelling parents are registered with one UK school and they keep their place even when on the move. That school sets work, which is completed on the road, and then the child rejoins upon their return. The law protects the parents from prosecution if they are in a business that requires them to travel.
The Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers (Acert) said the consultation document “recognises that attendance of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers is a serious concern, but presents no evidence that this is as a result of s444(6).”
Brian Foster, chairman of Acert, said: “I predict this repeal will be introduced, as a race card, in the run-up to the next election, to reassure core voters that the Coalition is tough on Travellers. It will do nothing to improve their educational outcomes.”
Those on the road have some support at Westminster with Richard Graham, MP for Gloucester, campaigning on behalf of showmen. He said repealing the law to “prevent truancy by children, would have unfortunate unintentional consequences on this community”.
Ms Munn, who is currently working on NoFit State’s latest show, Bianco, which is to be performed at London’s Roundhouse, said the current system allowed traveller children to receive a broad education. “The kids get other inputs like interacting with performers with other languages and visiting lots of different places. They have quite a wide world view, so when they go back they have that, but they’ve kept up with work.”
Opposition to the changes has come from the Circus Parents Association, the Association of Independent Showmen, the Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups and the Showman’s Guild. A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We are... considering all the responses to the consultation and will respond in due course.”