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

Guidance for local authorities, schools, early learning and childcare settings to help support children, young people and their families to engage in education.

Section 1: Introduction

Guidance purpose and development

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance about supporting Traveller children and young people and their families to engage in 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 might face in engaging with the education system, and therefore
  • supports schools, local authorities and other stakeholders to offer effective, inclusive educational 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 some Traveller children and young people. As is evidenced within this document, some Traveller children and young people's educational outcomes are among the worst in Scotland. The Scottish Government is committed to enabling all children and young people to reach their full potential and 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, ELC settings and local authorities, the guidance may also be useful to a range of stakeholders who have a role in supporting Traveller families such as: health and social care practitioners; those who can support transitions from school into further and higher education or employment; CLD (Community Learning and Development) teams; and adult and family learning providers. The guidance will also be of use to local authorities when developing their Traveller Education strategies. Traveller families living in Scotland, as well as regular seasonal Travellers to Scotland, may also find it helpful in providing clarity on Scottish education and to understand how they can best support their children throughout their education.

How to use this guidance

This document is divided into four sections:

  • Section 1 provides an introduction which sets the context and provides evidence of the educational outcomes and educational experience of some Traveller children and young people in Scotland.
  • Sections 2 and 3 focus on areas which are most likely to be relevant to improving outcomes for Travellers. The information is loosely based around two of the categories for quality indicators used in How Good is Our School 4 (HGIOS4) and How Good is Our Early learning and Childcare (HGIOELC): [1]
  • Leadership and Management – in schools and classrooms, and also in the wider local authority.
  • Learning Provision – focussed 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.

Inevitably, there is overlap between the sections and subsections and because of this, some repetition. References, including references to online material or other parts of the guidance, aid further exploration of points of interest.

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 teacher of Travellers, a headteacher and headteacher representatives, as well as a health practitioner, and a third sector representative. The group was able to bring a range of perspectives to the guidance, and drew on their wide experience of engaging with different groups of Travellers in many different settings. A wider range of perspectives was captured through a public consultation. The guidance recognises that the contexts for delivering services for Travellers will vary widely between practitioners, 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 to a number of different groups and communities with a mobile lifestyle and/or culture, when it would be onerous, or not possible, to list them individually. The intention is not to disregard the diversity in the history, culture and lifestyles of different Traveller groups (see the Scotland's Travellers subsection below), or suggest that all Travellers share the same experience of education and barriers to learning. Practitioners should always seek to understand individual circumstances.

'School/s' should be considered to include primary, secondary and special schools and units, unless otherwise specified.

'ELC' or 'early learning and childcare setting' encompasses settings previously known as nursery classes, pre-school centres, day nurseries, community nurseries, nursery schools etc. and also now includes childminders.

'Parent/s' has been used to mean mothers, fathers, carers, and others with responsibility for caring for a child or young person.

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 own 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 uncertainty about the Traveller group to which 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. In addition, there are also regular seasonal Travellers in Scotland, such as Irish Travellers, who could also benefit from this guidance.[2]

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 in Scotland.

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[4]. Scottish Showpeople share in this strong cultural identity and have a long, proud history of living and working in Scotland. Much of this business could not be conducted without a general education which explains why education has always been valued by the community and why Showpeople have such a long history of engagement with the Scottish education system. Nowadays, most families live on permanent yards, with many more or less commuting to fairs. For those that do travel during the summer months, the stable and predictable pattern of travel means that school attendance can be managed.

Social attitudes towards Gypsy/Travellers

I know Travellers who have …completely disassociated themselves with the culture entirely because they're terrified that they won't be allowed to get a job, they won't get into school. There's a huge issue of people not looking at other cultures, not looking at other ways of 'being'.

Young Gypsy/Traveller

The Scottish Government recognises that, as a group, Gypsy/Travellers experience widespread discrimination and marginalisation. The 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found widespread discriminatory attitudes towards Gypsy/Travellers. Although there were improvements in attitudes compared to previous years (2006 and 2010), Gypsy/Travellers were still subject to higher levels of prejudice than other groups.

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

  • 34% of respondents considered that Gypsy/Travellers would be unsuitable as primary school teachers
  • 31% 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 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 that 'a vast majority [of media articles] fell within the categories of negative, discriminatory and racist'. Such negative views and attitudes inevitably affect a Gypsy/Traveller's decision to self-identify, or not.

The above analysis relates to Gypsy/Travellers only. However, all Travellers, whether or not they are recognised as an ethnic minority in law, may be vulnerable to discrimination on the grounds of their identity or the discriminator's perception of their identity. Some may also experience discrimination related to their skin colour, appearance, language, or other factor.

The educational context

Given the background, context and evidence set out in this Introduction, it is clear that there can be tensions between the maintenance of a mobile tradition and culture and the need to ensure that the children and young people can access education. As mobility is an increasingly common feature in today's society, more and more children and young people are experiencing barriers to learning arising from the challenges associated with being mobile, such as multiple transitions, as well as the cultural differences which may exist between them and settled populations. The impact of such barriers can be heightened when parents have limited educational experience themselves. A partnership approach between families, authorities and agencies is needed to overcome barriers to learning 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 Traveller children and young people and their families, at times through a family learning approach. 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, starting with our very youngest Traveller children and extending to the parents and family, educational outcomes for many 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 the 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 that 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

It should be noted that separately, an education authority has a duty under section 1 of 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. The parents of such children are also under an obligation through section 30 of the same Act to ensure their children are educated (whether at school or otherwise).

Further, in Scotland, education authorities are required to provide up to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare for all children from three years old, and in some cases from two years old.[5] This is to expand to 1140 hours per year by August 2020.


Within Scotland's inclusive education framework, Traveller children, young people and their families 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
  • '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
  • The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 which provides a range of duties on local authorities and schools to involve parents in their child's education and in the life and work of their children's school
  • The new health and social care standards which describe what to expect when accessing health and social care services, and apply to ELC settings. Each of the standards are based on the same set of "principles" which are: dignity and respect; compassion; be included; responsive care and support; wellbeing.

Practitioner responsibilities

One young Traveller said that when he went to secondary school his father told him to do everything he could to hide his Traveller identity. "That was really hard for me at school. Travellers are really proud people and trying to keep that hidden is horrendous."

All teachers in local authority schools and grant-aided schools, and new teachers in independent schools, must be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). Also, from 1 October 2020, all existing teachers in independent schools must be registered with the GTCS. The GTCS Professional Standards for Teachers 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
  • valuing as well as respecting social, cultural and ecological diversity and promoting the principles of local and global citizenship for all learners

Standard 3.1.4 'Have high expectations of all learners' under Professional Skills and Abilities is also pertinent.

Headteachers also have specific responsibilities in relation to parental involvement, as set out in the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006.

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) registers staff working in ELC services and regulates their learning and development. Registration with the SSSC places a requirement on workers, and employers, to abide by the Code of Practice. The Code sets out clear standards of conduct and practice expected of workers in ELC including support workers, practitioners and managers/lead practitioners. It embeds the values of promoting diversity, respecting other cultures and non-discriminatory practice, and is a tool for workers and employers to use to help continually improve their practice. The Code lets people who use social services and carers know what they can expect from the workers who support them.

Parental responsibilities

Under section 30 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, parents and carers of school age children have a legal duty to provide their child with an "efficient education" which is "suitable to the age, ability and aptitude" of the child. In securing such an education, 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 require consent to withdraw a child from school in order to home educate if the child is in attendance already[6]. Parents should expect to be informed and involved in their child's education under the provisions within the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006.

Parents are not required to educate their children before they reach school age and early learning and childcare is an entitlement, not an obligation. Parents can decide whether or not to take up their 600 (soon to be 1140) hours, or how much of the entitlement they take up.

A partnership approach to education

All partners should have high expectations that all Traveller children and young people receive an education, enter the senior phase of the curriculum, achieve the four capacities, and go on to realise positive, sustained destinations. Partnership and collaboration are key to achieving improvements and realising this aim. A commitment to improving educational outcomes for this group extends to the Scottish Government, local authorities and schools. Partners, communities and families, working with a range of education providers, also have an important role to play in bringing about improvements. A range of partnership work, for example work set out in the Child Poverty Delivery Plan and Learning Together: A National Action Plan on Parental Involvement, Parental Engagement, Family Learning and Learning at Home, will be relevant here.

The educational experience – some evidence

This subsection presents evidence which demonstrates that some Travellers have poor outcomes and experiences in Scottish education. This data is for Gypsy/Travellers specifically, for the reasons explained below. However, we know from anecdotal evidence and wider research that some other Traveller groups may be similarly disadvantaged. However, we also know that some children and young people from other Traveller groups may have significantly better educational experience and outcomes than this evidence suggests.

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.
  • Anecdotally, we know that some Traveller children and young people never attend school, but we have no statistics to measure this.
  • Ethnicity data is not currently collected in ELC statistics, although plans for an individual child level data collection should mean that this will become possible in future years.

Scotland's White Gypsy/Travellers

Scotland's White Gypsy/Travellers

Sources: (Adult Qualifications) Scotland’s Census 2011; (School Leavers and Positive Destinations) Summary statistics for attainment, leaver destinations and healthy living, No. 7: 2017 Edition; (ASN) Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland, No: 8-2017; (Attendance and Exclusions) Attendance and Absence in Scottish Schools 2016/17

Achievement and attainment

"There are no inherent reasons why a child from a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller community should not achieve as well as any other child"[7]

As a group, Gypsy/Travellers' educational outcomes in terms of attainment and positive destinations are among the worst in Scottish education. A two year average from the 2014/15 and 2015/16 leavers' data, shows that:

  • 74.6% of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' were in a positive follow-up destination, compared to 91.7% for all publicly funded secondary school leavers.
  • 23.9% of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' left school with no qualifications at SCQF level 3 or higher, compared to 2.1% for all publicly funded secondary school leavers.
  • 43.3% of leavers recorded as 'White - Gypsy/Traveller' left school with 1 or more qualifications at SCQF level 5, compared to 85.4% for all secondary school leavers.

An analysis of 2011 Scotland's Census data 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[8] 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 statistical evidence' above), the following table shows that the numbers of children and young people who are ascribed to the ethnic group 'White Gypsy/Traveller' enrolled in schools has increased since 2011[9].

Primary Secondary Special Total
2011 558 171 8 737
2017 840 266 15 1,121

It is not known whether the increase is due to a growth in the Gypsy/Traveller population in Scotland, or increased engagement with school education, or both.

Many Gypsy/Traveller children in school do not complete the broad general education (BGE) or progress to senior stage but are withdrawn at the end of primary school. Annex E provides transitions data for White Gypsy/Traveller pupils in publicly funded primary and secondary schools in Scotland. It includes data on changes in cohort size from P7 to S1 and through secondary school. It suggests a high drop-out rate between primary and secondary school, and that the decrease in cohort size between S3 and S5/6 is much bigger for Gypsy/Traveller pupils than for all pupils.

Anecdotal evidence also indicates that there are many Gypsy/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 Gypsy/Travellers, or any 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.

In Scotland, overall, school attendance rates have remained relatively stable in the last few years, increasing from 93.1 to 93.7 per cent between 2010/11 and 2014/15 then decreasing to 93.3 per cent in 2016/17. However, White Gypsy/Traveller pupils enrolled in school continue to have the lowest attendance rates of any ethnic group at 78.8% in 2016/17 compared to the 93.3% 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.


Scotland's anti-bullying service, respectme, report that Gypsy/Traveller children and young people are a particularly discriminated against and marginalised group and concerns about bullying are especially acute for secondary schools[10]. Perceived risks about bullying and parents' own experiences of discriminatory behaviour may lead to low levels of enrolment and poor attendance for Gypsy/Traveller children and young people, as well as early exit from formal education. Other Traveller families, such as Roma, may have similar concerns.


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 2016/17. While exclusions for Gypsy/Travellers have also fallen over the same period, from 58 to 53 per 1,000 pupils[11], they remain higher than the overall Scotland figure. 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".

Additional Support for Learning

2017 data shows a relatively high percentage of Gypsy/Travellers recorded as receiving additional support for learning at 54% of pupils compared to 27% for all other ethnicities combined. This compares to 51% and 25% respectively in 2016.

Rates of additional support needs (per 1,000 pupils) for most common reasons for support

Rates of additional support needs (per 1,000 pupils) for most common reasons for support

Source: Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland, No: 8-2017


Email: Lynne Carter

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