Cuts threaten traveller children's schooling

The schooling of up to 100,000 children in the travelling community is being put at risk by cuts to council funding, an investigation by The Independent has revealed.

Nearly half of 127 authorities have either abolished their traveller education service or drastically cut staff levels, Freedom of Information responses show.

As a result, the education of the children of England's 300,000 travellers – who have the poorest grades and attendance of any ethnic minority – is in jeopardy.

The research will form part of a report produced by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain being handed today to a UN committee on discrimination. UK ministers will meet the committee next month.

Of 127 authorities that responded, 24 planned to scrap their traveller education support team while a further 34 were cutting more than a third of staff. The situation may be even worse next year, with 20 councils refusing to reveal projected staffing levels as they were "under review", "undecided", "unknown" or being "restructured".

Concerns were raised by Baroness Whitaker, Vice-President of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers (Acert) in the House of Lords in May. But schools minister Lord Hill said £201m in ethnic minority achievement grants had gone to individual schools as part of a drive to shift power away from councils.

Brian Foster, a former traveller teacher and Acert educational researcher, said: "Without traveller education staff it's likely schools will fail to identify gypsy, Roma and traveller pupils and fail to focus on their educational vulnerability.

"Just because a headmaster gets extra money for a disadvantaged pupil doesn't mean he or she is going to purchase adequate special services for that child's needs."

The scale of cuts has shocked the National Association of Teachers of Travellers. "I'm gobsmacked by the speed at which it has happened," joint president Linda Lewins said. "I'm watching 20 years of hard work being pulled apart."

Baroness Whitaker presented The Independent's research to another schools minister, MP Nick Gibb.

She said afterwards: "The Government should pay attention to the decline in the travellers' education service provision because it seems to be the only measure with any clear success in supporting gypsy, Roma and traveller children in getting to school."

The Department for Education said: "This is not about removing support. We have de-ringfenced a number of grants to give heads more flexibility and control over their budgets because they know best how to support their pupils."