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‘What about us?’: Gypsies, Travellers and white racism in schools

Bhopal, Kalwant (2009) ‘What about us?’: Gypsies, Travellers and white racism in schools At British Education Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference 2009, Keynote Symposia: Race, Ethnicity and Education. 02 - 05 Sep 2009.

Record type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Many problems have been identified with the education of Gypsy and Traveller pupils in schools (Bhopal, 2004; Warrington, 2007). Generally these have been articulated by policy makers, educational professionals and academics about Gypsies and Travellers communities; however, there is also a body of work that details Gypsy and Traveller families’ concerns about their children’s education (Acton, 2004; Dean, 2007). Underachievement and poor attendance issues in particular have caused concern for education policy makers since publication of the Plowden report in 1967 (Plowden, 1967; Bhopal et al, 2000). As a result the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has produced a number of publications aimed at raising the achievement and attainment of Gypsy and Traveller pupils (DfEE, 1999; DfES 2003; 2006). Common concerns for Gypsy and Traveller parents include fears their children will encounter racism and bullying at schools, fears around safety including using public transport, going on school trips or taking part in PE lessons, and engagement with culturally sensitive subjects such as sex education (Bhopal et al, 2000; Clark and Greenfields, 2006). Many Gypsy and Traveller parents also feel their children do not receive the quality of education they are entitled to; sometimes reflecting the failure of schools to deliver a culturally appropriate curriculum and sometimes suggesting schools do not deliver educational provision of the same quality received by non-Gypsy and Traveller children (Bhopal and Myers, 2008).

Whilst it is apparent that there has been an increase in the numbers of Gypsy and Traveller children attending schools, it is also clear that over the last fifty years many Gypsy and Traveller children have not attended school. In most research undertaken about Gypsy and Traveller children’s expectations of education since the 1960’s there are accounts of the bullying and racism they have faced (Liegeois, 1987; Reiss, 1975). This has been a consistent cause for families not to send their children to school. To date these issues have not been fully addressed and still reflect much that is commonplace despite continuing efforts to improve practice in schools (DfES, 2003, 2006). Therefore a management of the danger in ways that result in Gypsy and Traveller children feeling that going to school is safe, even if it is understood within a context of the school being a potentially dangerous site, is a positive development if the intention is to improve Gypsy and Traveller children’s educational outcomes. The perception of the school environment in this light in many ways reflects the context of Gypsy and Traveller lives and their relations with wider society.

Within this context, this paper will explore the most common problem identified by researchers as to the reasons why parents do not want to send their children to school – that of racism. The research will draw upon in-depth interviews conducted in one primary and one secondary school in an inner London borough. Both of the schools were the main receiving schools for the local Gypsy and Traveller population. Close to the schools is a local council run Gypsy and Traveller site which has been in the area for over 50 years. Interviews were conducted with heads, teachers, learning support assistants, parents and pupils. Despite race equality polices being in place in both schools, many of the pupils reported having experienced racism and these experiences not being taken seriously by teachers. One of the respondents indicated, ‘What about us? People don’t think anyone can be racist to us because we’re white. Those black people have their colour to show, what do we have?’ Many of the teachers also revealed overt racist attitudes towards Gypsy and Traveller pupils and indicated that Gypsy and Traveller children used their ethnicity as an ‘excuse’ so that they did not have to conform to school rules. Despite race equality policies being present in both schools, Gypsy and Traveller continued to experience overt racism and many parents felt such racism was not dealt with effectively and not given the same attention as racism experienced by non-white groups. Drawing upon this research, the paper will address the following questions:

1. How is white racism defined by Gypsy and Traveller groups?

2. How do schools deal with the racism experienced by Gypsy and Traveller groups and how does this in turn affect the educational experience of these groups?

3. Do what extent are Gypsies and Travellers ‘othered’ within schools?

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Published date: September 2009
Venue - Dates: British Education Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference 2009, Keynote Symposia: Race, Ethnicity and Education, 2009-09-02 - 2009-09-05
Keywords: whiteness, racism gypsies, travellers, schools, inclusion, race


Local EPrints ID: 68625
PURE UUID: a30c3e56-d20e-41c3-b7cf-fa99529a35cd

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Date deposited: 09 Sep 2009
Last modified: 19 Jul 2017 00:18

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Author: Kalwant Bhopal

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