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‘For a generation the Gypsy/Traveller community have not felt that they have been included or belonged within the school system.’

(Gould, 2017)

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The issue of improving educational transitions for young people from nomadic communities has been a focus of initiatives and policy for decades, yet national statistics show that education uptake remains low and transition to secondary is poor. 

Scottish Government statistics show that GT attainment and positive transitions and destinations are among the lowest in Scottish education. Government leavers data revealed that 69.8% of Gypsy/Travellers were in a positive follow-up destination compared to 91.9% of the general population. 2011 Census analysis data showed that 50% of Gypsy/Travellers aged 16 and over had no qualifications compared to 27% of the general population. Only 16% of Gypsy/Travellers held Level 4 or above compared to 26% of the general population. 28.1% of leavers has no qualifications at SCQF level 3 or higher, compared to 1.9% of all other secondary school leavers. Pupils from GT communities had the lowest attendance rates of any ethnic group at 79.5% in 2014/15 compared to the 93.7% Scotland average. 48.1% receive additional support for learning and have a significantly higher rate of exclusion (75 per 1000 pupils) compared to the national average in Scotland (27 per 1000).  The number of children from Gypsy/Traveller communities enrolled in schools is increasing however the statistics cannot determine whether the increase is due to a growth in the Traveller population in Scotland, increased engagement with education or whether families are more confident to identify as Gypsy/Travellers.  Despite some evidence for improved transition to ELC settings (STEP, SSS 2022), positive transitions remain low.  When pupils do successfully transition to secondary school, many young people report negative experiences (STEP 2023) and few remain beyond the age of 14 (Derrington and Kendall, 2004). Many young people are completely disengaged from any form of education by the age of 16 (Foster & Norton, 2015). Some studies show that that the average drop-out rate for GRT communities can be even younger with children leaving formal education at 11 years old (Franks and Ureche, 2007).

A range of complex and interlinked issues affect smooth transitions for nomadic communities. In Scotland, there is no legal requirement to send children to secondary school. But once registered, parents must seek permission to withdraw meaning that it is easier to avoid enrolment altogether. Non-transitions to high schools is common practice. The main relational and environmental differences between primary and secondary schooling can be jarring for GRT families such as the unsupervised movement of pupils between classes and beyond the school grounds at lunch breaks, multiple teachers and a larger building and school population.  Furthermore, driven by their value of ‘enterprise culture’ (Lloyd and McCluskey 2008), for many families, education at secondary phases may be at tension with traditional pathways where the priority for families is to teach traditional skills within the extended family with the aim of young people to join the family business or area of work and adopt traditional roles (Hamilton, 2018). In some cases, poverty may play a factor where families need young people to contribute to the household financially as soon as possible rather than spend additional years in education. 

 

A history of discrimination has led to a deep-rooted suspicion of institutions and non-engagement in education. Parents and/or young people continue to face bullying, racism and discrimination (Lloyd, G and Stead 2001; National Children’s Bureau 2020; Traveller Movement 2017. Riddell, 2022 and as a result, families have concerns about safety, in particular at secondary stages. Generational non-engagement with formal education means that many families have little experience of, and therefore familiarity with schools and the UK education system (Townsend et al., 2020). For example:

Children and young people can find it challenging to adapt to rules, school culture, and expectations outwith their own community and home. This may be as simple as sitting or focusing on one thing for long periods of time. 

Parents may not be unfamiliar with the registration process, school term dates or daily school routines and expectations that come with these or how they can get support during transitions phases.

Families may find the idea of their child transitioning to school intimidating and may have negative perceptions of what is involved in their own and their child’s participation and attendance. Suspicion about education structure and fear that once enrolled, their child will always be “monitored in the system” leading to children being ‘missing from education’ as early as nursery and primary stages. In addition, at early years phases, parents from GRT communities may see early learning and care as the responsibility of family members and not external settings.  

Families may not be aware of wider choices around personalised pathways and for example the flexibility of secondary education and options for more vocational qualifications and part-time attendance.

Parents may worry about relevance of the curriculum and maintaining cultural values as well as the risk of cultural dilution. Intergenerational cultural dissonance can also feature strongly (Hamilton, 2018) and young people’s desired education and career pathways may be very different from those held by their parents.  

High mobility can impact positive and effective transitions. Research also shows that students who experience high rates of transitions (here, referring to moving schools/settings) miss the opportunity to establish routines and familiarity with contexts, learning content and teachers, with negative consequences for educational outcomes (Evans et al 2018). Pupils can experience learning shock (Griffiths et al 2004), an inability to form or maintain attachments with teachers and peers (Bergen and Bergen 2009; Birch and Ladd, 1997; Jordan and Padfield, 2003) and have a lower level of support and safety provided by a strong social network at school (Ladd 1990).   

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