A survey by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) estimates that as many as 10,000 secondary-aged Travelling children - nearly two-thirds of the total in that age group - are not registered at any school.
The report, 'The Education of Travelling Children', estimates, that there is a total of 50,000 Travelling children (aged 0-16), considerably more than was previously thought.
Despite the practical problems of matching a nomadic lifestyle to settled schooling most traveller parents are anxious that their children should receive a sound primary education.
For many travellers the lack of participation in schooling, especially in the secondary phase, is rooted in the fear and suspicion stemming from social and cultural exclusion experienced over many decades.
Other key findings are that:
-- average attendance levels for travelling children are 159 half day sessions in one year out of a possible 380 (or 42%). Levels of attendance are slowly improving, but are still unacceptably low
-- the work of the Traveller Education Services (TES), employing 400 full time equivalent (FTE) teaching and other specialist staff across 83 LEAs, is generally of a high standard. Staffing and other resources are well managed, and HMI conclude that the £10.5m total expenditure provided under section 210 of the 1988 Act represents good value for money
-- standards achieved by pupils at Key Stages 1 and 2 are generally improving, although there is serious and legitimate concern that for some groups standards, particularly in English, are disappointing
-- standards of achievement at Key Stages 3 and 4 are very variable, but on the whole unsatisfactory
Other sections of the report focus on the disproportionate number of travelling pupils excluded from schools despite the assessment that the behaviour of travelling pupils is good, and on the very poor access and participation rate in post-school vocational training and further education.
The report summarises HMI inspection evidence gathered from a series of visits conducted by OFSTED over three years (September 1992 - July 1995). The purpose was to examine the quality of the educational opportunities and provision for travelling children, and the extent to which it succeeded in supporting the educational attainments of the children. The visits covered 31 LEAs, and three self-governing grant maintained schools.
-- OFSTED estimates of Travelling children
Age Cohort Key Stage Number
0-5 Pre-school 15,625
5-11 Primary 1 & 2 18,750
11-16 Secondary 3 & 4 15,625
All TOTAL 50,000
-- The phrase 'travelling communities' or similar, is used to cover those identifiable groups, some of which have minority ethnic status, who are either, or have been, traditionally associated with a nomadic lifestyle; they include gypsy travellers, fairground families (or showpeople), circus families, new travellers, bargees and other families living on boats. Throughout the report, the term 'travelling persons' is used to cover all of these communities unless a more specific reference is required.
-- It is estimated by HMI, on a variety of evidence, that the total size of the nomadic communities in England is in the region of 90,000, of which 50,000 are children aged 0-16. The department for education & employment statistical returns from section 210 annual reports indicate that 3,203 LEA schools and 119 grant maintained schools have travelling children registered.
-- Section 210 of the 1988 Education Reform Act provides specific grants to authorities with which travelling children are registered. The other act relating to the education of travelling children is section 199(6) of the 1993 Act. Under this act travelling children, in common with all other children, are required to receive 380 half day sessions of education. This can be made up by attending 200 half day sessions at school with the balance of 180 half days being covered by 'education otherwise' placing the duty of provision on their parents. This exception, however, is only permissable if the parents are travelling for the purposes of work for those 180 sessions.
-- 'The Education of Travelling Children' (Reference HMR/12/96/NS) is available free of charge from the OFSTED Publications Centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ. Tel 0171 510 0180.