Travellers still face prejudice, research finds

22nd February 2013 at 00:00
They are not seen as 'full citizens' in the school environment, academics argue

Traveller children are still more exposed to prejudice and ignorance in schools than other pupils and may not be benefiting from inclusion policies, new research suggests.

They "do not enjoy the same rights as other children and they are not regarded full citizens in the school environment", state researchers involved in a small project in Glasgow and London.

Professor Ross Deuchar, of the University of the West of Scotland, and Dr Kalwant Bhopal, of the University of Southampton, explored the experiences of 27 traveller children aged 8 to 11, from 2006 to 2010.

Their report, in the British Educational Research Journal, contrasts "current rhetoric of social and cultural inclusion" with realities in the classroom.

"It often seemed that teachers' focus on promoting cultural diversity, anti-racism and participatory practice within classrooms had limitations that did not extend towards the full inclusion of travellers' rights and values," they said.

The researchers, who worked with children in two schools each in Glasgow and London, found traveller children's enthusiasm for learning could be doused by school, where they "often felt excluded and unheard".

"There was an evident inability on the part of teachers to understand the complexity of traveller identity and culture, to recognise the enterprising attitudes and maturity that the children are accustomed to displaying in their communities and an unwillingness to allow pupils to share their insights from that culture in class," they state.

Most pupils felt that they were not given the chance to share skills they learned as part of fairground families. "You're not even allowed to talk about it," one Glasgow pupil said.

Some pupils felt teachers underestimated their potential and ambitions. One from Glasgow said: "They just think that you're going to grow up and be a traveller but some travellers will grow up to be footballers, to be famous people; some travellers grow up and go to drama schools, dancing schools."

Many pupils had encountered racism, in school and beyond, and thought more should be done to tackle it; even anti-racism work brought no guarantee of opportunities to discuss prejudice against travellers.

One Glasgow pupil said: "We get circle time and the teacher talks about people who have a different colour of skin and who talk different - individuals and all that, and I always think, 'Why do you not talk about travellers - why people call them different names n' that?'"

In some cases, pupils felt teachers were dismissive and hostile towards travelling culture and traditions. One Glasgow pupil said: "In class, we were all asked to draw a picture of our house and I drew a picture of my wagon and the teacher told me to rub it out and draw a house."

The report finds: "Overall, the young travellers in our sample experienced wide-ranging forms of racist, prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes both in their local community and in school."


Glasgow's education director, Maureen McKenna, responded angrily to the research, saying the findings were not a fair reflection of what was happening in schools.

"I am really disappointed by the findings of this research and, while not disputing that undoubtedly children from traveller families do face discrimination and challenges due to their chosen lifestyle, I do dispute the findings as being wholly representative of how children from traveller families are treated in our schools," she said.

She stressed that traveller families tended to seek out schools where "they know the staff understand their way of life and provide good support to the families", and that these schools were "very proud" of their work in this area.

"I know our schools will be really disappointed by the particularly negative choice of quotes (from pupils)," she added.

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