Minister rejects funding call for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma pupils

By Martin George on 09 January 2019

Children's minister acknowledges young people face challenges such as bullying, but says ring-fencing is not the answer

A Department for Education minister has rejected a call to set aside money specifically to help Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in schools.

Nadhim Zahawi today told the Commons Women and Equalities Committee that their needs were better met through the pupil premium.

He was giving evidence to the committee’s inquiry into tackling inequalities faced by the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities.

The children's minister told the MPs: “We need to be honest with ourselves that, in terms of attainment and progress, things have remained relatively flat, so there is a lot of work we need to do.

“I don’t think we are sitting here saying to you we are high-fiving each other saying that the work is done.”

Labour MP Sarah Champion raised concerns that schools might not use their pupil premium funding to help children from GRT communities.

She asked: “As an incentive to try to challenge an area that you know is a particular problem, would you consider ring-fencing specific money to help?”

Mr Zahawi rejected the suggestion, and said: “My view is the best way to do this continues to be through the pupil premium rather than the centre ring-fencing and trying to intervene in particular interventions, rather than looking at a whole-school strategy for improvement for this particular group of young people.”

Committee chair Maria Miller asked Mr Zahawi to write to the committee about “whether or not there might be some room to review whether or not the pupil premium criteria really are picking up on the needs of children in this community”.

He agreed to do so.

'Disappearing' from school

Earlier, Ms Champion raised the challenges caused by children from GRT communities who “will come in [to school] maybe for a couple of weeks, a term, and then disappear off for six months and then come back again”.

She asked whether the DfE is trying to “capture” this phenomenon.

Mr Zahawi said: “In some instances, you get dual registrations in different schools, but it is an area I am looking at in terms of following the pathways of these children.”

The committee also heard concerns about bullying faced by GRT children.

Labour MP Gavin Shuker told the minister: “I have rarely come across a group that so consistently reported bullying and harassment in education settings, but we have also seen that government and Ofsted guidance on bullying rarely mentions GRT communities”.

Mr Zahawi responded that “if you are asking me do we need to do more, the answer is yes”, but added that the DfE was funding activities to combat bullying, and had published a document to help schools to develop their approaches to the issue.