Publication - Consultation paper

Improving educational outcomes for children and young people from travelling cultures: consultation paper

Published: 21 Feb 2017
Learning Directorate
Part of:
Education, Equality and rights

Draft guidance for a consultation on supporting children and young people from travelling communities to engage in school education.

Improving educational outcomes for children and young people from travelling cultures: consultation paper
Section 1. Introduction

Section 1. Introduction

  • Guidance purpose and development
  • Scotland's Travellers
  • The educational context
  • The Traveller educational experience - the evidence

Guidance purpose and development

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to schools, including early learning and childcare settings ( ELC [1] ), and local authorities about how they can support Traveller children and young people and their families to engage in school education so as to improve their life outcomes. It:

  • sets out the context for supporting Traveller children and young people and their families,
  • encourages an understanding of the challenges they face in engaging with the education system, and therefore,
  • supports schools and local authorities to offer effective, inclusive approaches.

Why is guidance necessary?

This guidance has been developed as a direct response to the very real concerns about the achievement of educational outcomes, and therefore life outcomes, by Traveller children and young people. The Scottish Government is committed to enabling all children and young people to reach their full potential and, as is evidenced within this document, Traveller children and young people's educational outcomes are among the worst in Scotland. This guidance is intended to support those working with Traveller children and young people in Scotland's schools and communities in improving educational outcomes over time.

Who is this guidance for?

While primarily aimed at schools (including ELC) and local authorities, the guidance will also be useful for health and social care practitioners, those who can support transitions from school, including further and higher education institutions, CLD (Community Learning and Development) organisations, and others who provide support to Traveller families with children. The guidance will also be of use to local authorities when developing their Traveller Education strategies. Traveller families may also find it helpful in providing clarity on Scottish education and to understand how they can best support their children through school.

How to use this guidance

This document is divided into four sections.

  • Section 1 provides an introduction which sets the context and provides some evidence of the educational outcomes and educational experience of Traveller children and young people in Scotland.
  • Sections 2 and 3 focus on areas for improvement most relevant to Travellers. The information is loosely based around two of the categories for quality indicators used in How Good is Our School 4 ( HGIOS4) [2] :
    • Leadership and Management - in schools and classrooms, and also in the wider local authority.
    • Learning Provision - which focuses on educational approaches, as well as the importance of family engagement.
  • Section 4 comprises annexes, including a summary of the legislative and policy context and information on further resources.

How this guidance was developed

The guidance was developed by a diverse working group comprising representatives from local authorities who support Traveller families, including an EAL (English as an additional language) expert, a Traveller teacher, and a head teacher, as well as a health practitioner, and third sector representatives. The group was able to bring a range of perspectives to the guidance, and drew on their wide experience of engaging with Travellers in many different settings. The guidance recognises that the contexts for delivering services for Travellers will vary widely between teachers, schools, and local authorities and therefore signposts to many other sources of guidance and support.

Terms used in this Guidance

'Traveller(s)' is used to refer collectively to those with a mobile lifestyle and/or culture, including, but not exclusively, European Roma, Scottish Gypsy/Travellers and Showpeople or Showmen.

'School' should be considered to include early learning and childcare ( ELC) provision, unless otherwise specified.

'Parent' should be considered to be those with parental responsibilities, including carers.

Scotland's Travellers

The diversity of mobile communities' culture, history and lifestyles

Travelling communities in Scotland are not a single group. There are many different groups. Each is defined by its different history, culture and lifestyle. While each group is made up of extensive family networks, these may have little or no connection with other Traveller groups. Central to each community is its right to self-identity, and to be recognised and respected by the society it lives in. The different groups may have very different educational experiences and outcomes but what they do share is family lifestyles, which are essentially built around a mobile tradition.

Some Traveller groups, such as Scottish Gypsy/Travellers and European Roma, will be recognised in law as minority ethnic groups and are therefore afforded legal protection from discrimination on grounds of race under the Equality Act 2010.

When there is concern about use of terminology, or with understanding with which Traveller group a family identifies, it is important to gain information through the family. Written references to Traveller groups should always capitalise the first letter, e.g. 'Gypsy/Traveller', 'Roma', 'Traveller' or 'Showpeople'.

Further information on the most common Traveller groups in Scotland is provided below.

European Roma - The recent enlargement of the European Union enabled the Roma to come to the UK from many new European Union countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Importantly, families will generally identify themselves first in national terms and then as Roma e.g. Slovak Roma or Romanian Roma.

Most families have travelled with the aim of finding work and to seek a good education for their children. The majority also seek to escape violence, racism and discrimination in their countries of origin. Roma are the most impoverished and marginalised ethnic minority in Europe with an estimated population of between 10 and 14 million [3] . They are a very diverse group with many different national and ethnic subgroups.

Roma settle in large groups of extended family networks. Group pride is strongly related to the traditions that arise from specific trades such as horse traders and basket weavers. Key to any Roma family's economic and social survival is its strong sense of responsibility for all family members.

In the UK, Roma tend to be drawn to specific areas. For many families, being able to access better education for their children is one of the factors in the decision to migrate. They often have negative experiences of education in their home countries. Scotland's more inclusive system means they often find education a positive experience and therefore Roma children are more likely to attend school.

Scottish Gypsy/Travellers identify themselves variously as Gypsy/Travellers, Gypsies, or simply as Travellers. Regardless of whether families currently live a mobile lifestyle or are 'settled' in a house, they continue to identify with the travelling community and have a strong commitment to the maintenance and development of their Traveller identity, lifestyle and culture.

Young people become part of the extended working families from an early age and assume adult roles and responsibilities. Gypsy/Traveller young people, therefore, may not easily adapt to the stark contrast of age-specific grouping in schools.

Scottish Gypsy/Travellers share many cultural features with European Roma communities, such as a belief in the importance of extended family bonds and family descent, a preference for self-employment, and a strong commitment to a nomadic lifestyle. Other cultural practices, such as the common preference to marry within the community, a choice many families make to withdraw children from school at an early age, or not engaging with formal education at all, were and are ways of maintaining their cultures and lifestyles as different from non-Traveller settled communities.

Showpeople bring fairgrounds to locations across the UK. Many Showpeople also travel further afield to attend European fairs. Wherever they travel there is an expectation that the whole family will contribute towards the life of the fair. Showpeople make up a business/cultural community who self-define in terms of their livelihoods. Showpeople's distinctive identity is built on their tradition of bringing entertainment and other services to local communities. Scottish Showpeople share in this strong cultural identity and have a long, proud history of living and working in Scotland. In recent years Show families have recognised the importance of education to their future livelihoods and many have adapted their children's travelling patterns to accommodate school terms.

Social attitudes

The Scottish Government recognises that, as a group, Gypsy/Travellers experience widespread discrimination and marginalisation. The 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found widespread discriminatory attitudes towards Gypsy/Travellers and that public attitudes had changed little, if at all, since 2006.

The Survey included two sets of detailed questions relating to employment and personal relationships. It showed:

  • 46% of respondents considered that Gypsy/Travellers would be unsuitable as primary school teachers
  • 37% said they would be unhappy if a close relative entered into a long-term relationship with a Gypsy/Traveller

The portrayal of Gypsy/Travellers in the media can provide a stark reflection of the deep-rooted prejudices held towards this community. Amnesty International's research [4] into media reporting of Scottish Gypsy/Travellers found that a significant number of articles, which appear in the print media perpetuate prejudicial views of Scottish Gypsy/Travellers. Similarly, in 2016, Article 12 reported [5] that 'a vast majority [of media articles] fell within the categories of negative, discriminatory and racist'.

The educational context

Given the background, context and evidence set out in this Introduction, it is clear that tensions remain between the maintenance of a mobile tradition and culture and the need to ensure that the children and young people can access an education that allows them to reach their full potential.

Mobility is a feature in today's society and it is becoming more common for children and young people to move between homes, towns and countries and therefore for children and their families to experience multiple transitions between schools. Traveller families' lifestyles are essentially built around a mobile tradition and they can encounter challenges in engaging with and accessing education due to the practical barriers associated with being mobile as well as the cultural differences which may exist between them and settled populations. A partnership approach between families, authorities and agencies is needed to overcome these barriers in order that Traveller children's rights, entitlements and potential can be realised.

In some local authorities and schools in Scotland, proactive efforts have been made to engage and support these children and young people and their families. There is evidence of emerging and established good practice, some of which is included in this guidance. However, overall progress is slow and in some areas activity to support Travellers is limited. Without appropriate engagement and support, educational outcomes for Traveller children are likely to continue to be poor. This guidance is intended as a tool to support that improvement.

Right to education

Like all children and young people in Scotland, Travellers have rights to education under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child ( UNCRC). These rights have been incorporated in Scots Law under section 1 of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 which sets out the right of every child of school age to be provided with school education by, or through arrangements made by, an education authority. In carrying out their duty to provide education, education authorities must under section 2(1) of that same Act secure that the education is directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential. Local authority schools are fundamental to the discharge of these duties.

It should be noted that separately an education authority has a duty under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to secure adequate and efficient provision of education in their area, regardless of whether the children are nationals of the UK or some other state. [6] The parents of such children are under an obligation to ensure their children are educated (whether at school or otherwise). [7]


Within Scotland's inclusive education framework, Traveller children and young people have entitlements under:

  • Curriculum for Excellence which provides the flexible framework to meet the needs of all learners,
  • A legislative framework of additional support for learning to help overcome barriers to learning [8] ,
  • 'Getting it Right for Every Child' ( GIRFEC), the national approach based on children's and young people's rights which through partnership working supports the wellbeing of children and young people.

Teacher responsibilities

All teachers in local authority schools in Scotland must be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland ( GTCS). The Professional Standards for Teachers [9] place Professional Values and Personal Commitment at their core. The first of these is Social Justice, which is particularly relevant as it involves

  • committing to the principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policy and practices in relation to all protected characteristics, including race, and ethnicity, and;
  • valuing as well as respecting social, cultural and ecological diversity and promoting the principles of local and global citizenship for all learners

Parental responsibilities

Parents and carers have a legal duty to provide to their child an "efficient education" which is "suitable to the age, ability and aptitude" of the child [10] . Parents have a right to choose whether to send their child to school (whether a public or independent school) or to home educate. They should have regard to the child's views, as well as any additional support needs they may have, when making this decision. Parents will usually require consent to withdraw a child from school in order to home educate if the child has begun attendance there.

A partnership approach to education

Within this inclusive educational context it is essential that a partnership approach is taken in pursuit of a goal which is shared by children and young people, parents, schools, local authorities and the Scottish Government. We should all have high expectations that young people enter the senior phase of the curriculum, achieve the four capacities, and go on to realise positive, sustained destinations.

Scotland's White Gypsy/Travellers

The Traveller educational experience - the evidence

This sub-section presents evidence which demonstrates that Gypsy/Travellers have poor outcomes and experiences in Scottish education. Although in some cases the evidence is limited to data about Gypsy/Travellers specifically, we know from anecdotal evidence and wider research that other Traveller groups may be similarly disadvantaged.

A note about statistical evidence

The Scottish Government captures statistics for the ethnic group 'White Gypsy/Traveller'. In the analysis below, these statistics have been used to give an indicative picture of numbers of Gypsy/Traveller children in schools, their educational outcomes and other related factors. However, it is important to note that:

  • There are many Travellers who attend school who, while fitting the description for the White Gypsy/Traveller ethnic group, would choose not to disclose themselves as such, to a greater degree than is common with other groupings.
  • There will be many travellers attending school who belong to a distinct Traveller group which cannot be identified through these statistics. For example it is impossible to identify Roma children and young people as a separate group through these statistics.
  • Fluctuations in population and small numbers mean that year on year comparisons for the White Gypsy/Traveller ethnic group may not be fully reliable. Changes in population numbers may also impact on number of children attending schools.
  • Anecdotally, we know that some Traveller children and young people never attend school, but we have no statistics to measure the extent of this non-attendance.

Achievement and attainment

"There are no inherent reasons why a child from Traveller community should not achieve as well as any other child" [11]

As a group, Gypsy/Travellers' outcomes in terms of attainment and positive destinations are among the worst in Scottish education. The following data is taken from two year averages. Percentages in brackets are for 2012/13 and 2013/14.

  • 2013/14 and 2014/15 leavers data [12] , shows that 69.8% (59.6%) of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' were in a positive follow-up destination, compared to 91.9% (91.0%) for all publicly funded secondary school leavers
  • 2013/14 and 2014/15 leavers data, shows that:
    • 28.1% (20.8%) of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' left school with no qualifications at SCQF level 3 or higher, compared to 1.9% (1.6%) for all publicly funded secondary school leavers;
    • 42.2% (41.5%) of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' left school with 1 or more qualifications at SCQF level 5, compared to 84.7% (83.5%) for all secondary school leavers.

An analysis of 2011 Census data [13] presents some important education variables for Gypsy/Travellers age 16 plus compared to the general population:

  • 50% of Gypsy/Travellers aged 16 and over had no qualifications [14] compared to 27% of the population as a whole
  • Only 16% of Gypsy/Travellers held Level 4 or above (degree) qualifications compared to 26% of the population as a whole
  • 38% of Gypsy/Travellers age 16-24 were full-time students compared to 46% of the general population in this age group.

Transitions and retention

Although it is not possible to obtain from published statistics the actual number of Travellers attending school (see 'a note about statistics' above), the numbers of children and young people who are ascribed to the ethnic group 'White Gypsy/Traveller' enrolled in schools is increasing year on year [15] . In 2011, 737 Gypsy/Traveller children and young people were enrolled in schools (558 in Primary Schools and 171 in Secondary schools), compared to 1,060 Gypsy/Traveller children and young people enrolled (812 in Primary and 228 in Secondary) in 2015. It is not known whether the increase is due to a growth in the Traveller population in Scotland, or because of an increased engagement with school education, or both.

Anecdotal evidence, and calculations comparing numbers of Traveller children in P7 to numbers in S1 the following year, show that many Traveller children in school do not complete the broad general education ( BGE) or progress to senior stage but are withdrawn from formal education at the end of primary school.

Anecdotal evidence also indicates that there are many Traveller children who do not attend school, either because they have been withdrawn to be home educated or because they have always been home educated. However, data which would allow us to assess the extent of home schooling for Travellers is not collected nationally.


There is a correlation between attendance and attainment. Pupils with the lowest rates of attendance demonstrate the highest rates of underachievement. [16]

In Scotland, overall, school attendance rates have increased in the last few years. However, White Gypsy/Traveller pupils enrolled in school continue to have the lowest attendance rates of any ethnic group at 79.5% in 2014/15 compared to the 93.7% Scotland average. It follows that Gypsy/Traveller children and young people, and other mobile children whose attendance is irregular, are missing out on time in education compared to other children.

Bullying, Relationships and Behaviour

Children who hold some protected characteristics, including those from a minority ethnic group such as Gypsy/Travellers, may be more susceptible to bullying. Although the extent of this risk is not known, we know that bullying can impact negatively on attendance; parents have particularly strong concerns about allowing their children to attend secondary schools. [17]

It is worth noting that the 2015 research Mental health and wellbeing among adolescents in Scotland: profile and trends found that the number and nature of friendships, as well as views on school and school-work, are the key drivers of mental health and wellbeing among girls and boys.


Although in Scotland the rate of exclusions continues to fall for all local authority pupils - from 33 per 1,000 in 2012/13 to 27 per 1,000 in 2014/15 - exclusions for Gypsy/Travellers have increased over the same period from 58 to 75 per 1,000 pupils [18] . Research in England reported that "Gypsy/Roma boys and girls of Irish Traveller heritage were the ethnic groups most likely to experience exclusion from school, and boys in these groups were twice as likely as girls to be excluded." [19]

Additional Support for Learning

2015 data shows a relatively high percentage of Gypsy/Travellers recorded as receiving additional support for learning at 48.1% of pupils compared to 22.5% for all other ethnicities combined. This compares to 42.1% and 20.7% respectively in 2014.