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All the fun of the Fair’

September was ‘World Funfair Month’, a month of celebrating the past, raising awareness for the present and protecting the future of all Traveling Fairgrounds and funfairs internationally. Colleagues from Widening Participation at Sussex attended a wonderful symposium hosted by New Bucks University titled ‘Getting a fair education’ which looked at some of the barriers faced by this community with a distinct culture and way of life.

The trade or business of fairgrounds provides an informal apprenticeship and a fast-track to adulthood as young learners support their family businesses, however, it also creates disruption to their learning journeys. The ‘on the road’ nature of their business means that between Apr-Sept learners might spend only 70% of their time in school or college, the remainder of their learning supported by laptops, worksheets, and a ‘travelling teacher’. During the travelling season the business tends to come first, and learners need to find the time and space outside of family responsibilities to conduct their studies. Parents are more often the ‘gatekeeper’ as to the kind of academic aspiration their children may be able to access; there is a conflict between maintaining a business and cultural heritage and pursuing a progressive education pathway. Without flexible and cultural awareness from outsiders there is very often no ‘champion’ promoting young people to consider the full range of opportunities available for them at a critical stage of their educational development; these learners, indeed, may not be in class when critical careers and educational information, advice, and guidance is shared.

For the first time this year the National Census has provided an opportunity for Showmen (the generic term –yes, I know it is problematic) to be able to register their cultural identity; UCAS and universities have yet to do the same. Those learners that do enter HE have no mechanism with which to express or share their cultural identity. Showmen learners are often conflicted about how to express their identity in school, college and beyond. There is a misunderstanding of their culture, one that is often conflated with that of seemingly similar but different cultures and ethnicities (Gypsy, Roma, and Travellers); all are subject to same stereotypes, discrimination and ‘crippling disadvantage’. University of Sussex Widening Participation Team (WP) already works with individuals from this community as part of our broader work with Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller organisations. We also work with schools, notably in the Crawley area –a recognised ‘wintering ground’ -where there is a high incident of Showmen learners. We will continue to promote, encourage, and celebrate young learners from this sector to recognise the opportunities associated with accessing higher education. For more information please contact Chris in WP:

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