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Stark attainment gaps make it harder for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students to attend university:

Young people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are the least likely ethnic group to enter higher education – according to a new report including research from members at the University of Sussex.

Published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), the Gypsies, Roma and Travellers: The ethnic minorities most excluded from UK education shows:

  • Young people from Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities are the least likely ethnic groupings to enter higher education by the age of 19 – just 6.3% of Gypsy / Roma and 3.8% of Irish Travellers access higher education by the age of 19 compared to around 40% of all young people;

  • Gypsy, Roma and Travellers of Irish heritage have the widest attainment gap in measures of pupils achieving a good level of development in early years education;

  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have some of the lowest rates of attendance and the highest rates of permanent exclusion from schools;

  • in 2020/21, 9.1% of Gypsy, Roma pupils and 21.1% of Irish Traveller pupils achieved a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and Mathematics, compared to a national average in England of 51.9%;

  • Gypsy and Irish Travellers are the UK’s ‘least liked’ group, with 44.6% of people holding negative views against them – 18.7 percentage points higher than Muslims; and

  • Irish Travellers face a ‘mental health crisis’, with one-in-10 deaths caused by suicide.

HEPI finds that if Gypsies, Roma and Travellers were evenly represented in higher education, then they would make up around 0.1% of students. That would be 2,600 students, instead of the 660 there are today.

Professor Louise Morley from the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sussex, who wrote the Foreword to the report, said:

“The story of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities is one of spatial segregation, symbolic and actual ghettoisation, and the racialisation of poverty and social exclusion. We now have the opportunity to make important strategic interventions for change, and transition from abjection to inclusion. One of our many findings from the numerous knowledge exchange events that we, at the University of Sussex, have held between Roma community organisations and universities was how under-developed the UK is in terms of interventions to encourage inclusion in higher education for this group of people. I think it’s fair to say that the University of Sussex research team put this issue on the policy map in the UK.”

Dr Emily Danvers, Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sussex, who contributed to the report (and member of said:

“At the University of Sussex, we have formed links between academics, practitioners and community members so that we can share expertise to best support this highly marginalised group to access higher education. We are proud that the University of Sussex has been doing outreach for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities since 2019 - with Chris Derbyshire from the Widening Participation leading this. However, we have learnt a lot in this time and we are still learning and adapting to ensure this outreach is meaningful and inclusive. In particular we are centring community voices in this work now by working closely with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students at Sussex.”

Speaking about the new report, its author, Dr Laura Brassington of HEPI, said:

“Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals still face exclusion from education. It is tragic that so many avoid identifying by their ethnicity for fear of racial prejudice. It is scarcely believable they still face so many barriers when accessing mainstream education."

Other policy recommendations in the report include:

  1. Better data collection: clear and consistent data collection of students and staff who identify as Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, Showman and Boaters at education institutions.

  2. Recognising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller histories: marking Holocaust Memorial Day (January), International Roma Remembrance Day (April) and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller participation History Month (June).

  3. More tailored funding: £60 million Government funding to work with community groups to improve outcomes.

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