More than half of Traveller children drop out of school by the age of 14, an in-depth study has revealed.
It shows that almost 80 per cent were called racist names or were bullied in school.
A quarter of Traveller pupils were excluded from school at least once compared to 0.12 per cent of pupils nationally. They also under-achieved.
The Nuffield Foundation-funded study highlighted a range of issues including cultural expectations and the sometimes conflicting expectations of home and school.
Arthur Ivatts, a former schools inspector with national responsibility for Traveller education, who was on the steering group for the study, said it backed up the suspicions of professionals.
"It confirms that these communities have suffered from social exclusion and racist abuse for a long period.
"This is what undermined their full participation in education," he said.
Inspectors have said that Travellers are the group most at risk in the education system.
Of the 44 11-year-olds who were in school at the start of the study, only 20 were still in classes three years later.
The analysis was carried out between 2000 and 2003. Uniquely, the researchers interviewed 44 children and their parents when they started secondary school. All of the pupils were relatively "settled" in the educational sense. There were also postal surveys to schools and Traveller education services.
Factors linked with dropping out were parents and older siblings with negative attitudes, unhappy experiences of secondary education and being outside mainstream culture. Those with a history of poor attendance who had always intended to leave school early were also more likely to drop out.
One girl said: "Next year I'll be at home learning how to clean up and things like that."
One mother told researchers: "We aren't looking for college. He has uncles in business."
Another said she did not want her son to go to school as children were smoking there. "He'll pick up bad habits," she said.
Where Traveller children stayed on at school, both they and their parents had high expectations, and their older brothers and sisters had had a positive secondary school experience.
One mother said: "I would like her to do A-levels - just have an independent life."
Other factors for staying on included secure friendships which included Travellers and non-Travellers and participation in a range of extra-curricular activities.
The report Gypsy Traveller pupils in English secondary schools: a longitudinal study is by Chris Derrington, senior lecturer in education at University College Northampton, and Sally Kendall, senior research officer at the National Foundation for Educational Research.
Mrs Derrington said that while the study identified a range of obstacles to young people staying in education, there were positive elements.
She said: "A few years ago the issue was the transfer from primary to secondary school. We had seen the pattern was changing. People were transferring but still not going right through secondary school.
"Of the sample, almost half did see key stage 3 right the way through.
Things are moving forward.
"Some of the schools have done really well to try and improve the situation.
"I think the main message from this study is that we need to look beyond the mobility factor to understand the kind of experiences children are having in schools."
A full report of the Nuffield Foundation findings is due to be published by Trentham books in February 2004
WHAT THE CHILDREN SAY
"My people say if someone hits you, you must hit back."
"When you get talking to people and they ask where you live, sometimes I tell them and they are OK, sometimes they go off you, and sometimes I don't bother telling them who I really am, it's better not to."
"When people don't call me (names) I love school to bits."
"I used to tell the teachers (when I was called names) but they don't do nothing. They say they'll put them in the racism book or something. But that's not a lot is it? Putting their name in a book!"