Participants from Gypsy and Traveller communities described experiencing varying levels of education, with some never having been to school, and some having completed compulsory education and gaining college or university level qualifications.
While some spoke of enjoying their education, others described having faced numerous challenges, including perceived discriminatory behaviour from other students and teachers.
Participants appeared to value education and skills development, particularly for their children, which was linked to the importance placed on securing future employment.
Experiences of perceived discrimination, inflexibility of the education system, and aspects of the curriculum that are seen as contradictory to Gypsy and Traveller values were cited as reasons for withdrawing children from mainstream education, with some being home-schooled instead.
Community members who felt accepted by teachers and felt they were able to be open about their ethnicity described having had more positive experiences at school.
Participants from Gypsy and Traveller communities discussed facing many barriers to accessing employment, including a lack of skills, education or formal qualifications, and perceived discrimination from employers, colleagues, and the settled community.
Additionally, participants spoke of facing difficulties in re-skilling to adapt to non-traditional occupations, for example, because of technological advancements and the introduction of licensing requirements, such as for selling scrap metal, affecting jobs commonly done by Gypsies and Travellers.
Participants from Gypsy and Traveller communities expressed a desire for their children to receive a good education and develop useful skills. These were seen as important for securing future employment and better prospects in life. Several participants discussed their determination to ensure their children had a better education than they had, particularly if they had limited opportunities to go to school, either through their parents' difficulties or disillusionment with the education system, or because of their nomadic lifestyle.
Some participants noted that Gypsy and Traveller children may have worked alongside their parents and acquired a wide range of life and practical skills early on in life as part of a traditional Gypsy and Traveller upbringing. Despite this, participants felt that young Gypsy and Traveller people are often unable to access the practical, vocational learning and college courses some would value most. The formal education system was seen to not reflect the diversity of learning needs and aspirations of some Gypsy and Traveller young people who may want to be self-employed and working in the roles traditionally undertaken by their parents and grandparents.
Some also felt that a lack of practical, vocational learning may inhibit young people from accessing further academic study, which would give them higher qualifications and opportunities in more skilled occupations.
Some participants described how they or their children had completed their schooling and gained qualifications and were very proud of these achievements.
However, multiple barriers were described which were said to result in children having negative schooling experiences or being withdrawn from formal educational provision by their parents. In some instances, they opted to home-school their children instead.Back to table of contents
Flexibility and cultural sensitivity within the education system were recurrent themes raised by Gypsies and Travellers when asked about their experiences of education, both for themselves and their children. There were a variety of ways in which participants felt that the current educational system may not be well suited to the values and priorities of Gypsy and Traveller parents and children.
Examples of this included inflexibility around school attendance to accommodate travelling and a nomadic lifestyle, with the system said to not allow for continuity of education when travelling between places.
Some participants reported a lack of awareness and sensitivity in schools to Gypsy and Traveller culture. Although Gypsies and Travellers are traditionally nomadic and this remains an important aspect of their culture, participants described having difficulty getting authorised absences to take children out of school to travel. There were examples of this resulting in disagreements with schools, parents withdrawing their children from schools and opting to home educate instead, to retain greater flexibility for travelling.
This was an issue recognised by some local government participants.
Some participants cited positive examples from their childhoods where "green cards" were used as a system to enable Gypsy and Traveller children to attend schools in the areas where they were travelling. While they appreciated this attempt to provide continuity, difficulties were also experienced with the implementation of this system. For example, it was stated that historically children with green cards would often be grouped together in a class, regardless of age or previous educational attainment, leading to an environment not well adapted to the needs of learners.
Community members also discussed their concerns around the perceived lack of reference to, and avoidance of, Gypsy and Traveller culture within lessons. This had in some cases led to a fear that sending their children to school could undermine their cultural identity. There was a strong desire for more teaching about their culture within schools.
Participants also discussed concerns around their children participating in lessons that they deemed to be culturally inappropriate. Community members and government participants discussed how some Gypsy and Traveller parents felt their children were being taught about sex education at an inappropriately young age.
In some cases, parents discussed having pre-emptively withdrawn their children from school to avoid these lessons, while others said they had been unable to take them out of these lessons because they had not received advance notification.
Despite some feeling these lessons are not in keeping with traditional Gypsy and Traveller values, they did not appear to universally pose a barrier to children continuing in mainstream education. Some noted that elements of these lessons provide benefit to the community, such as receiving information about vaccines.Back to table of contents
Some participants described having had negative experiences in their own childhood, such as bullying and ostracisation. This was linked to some being reluctant for their children to participate in mainstream education.
Community members described experiences of bullying and perceived racism from other students as well as instances in which they or their children were felt to be unfairly punished for reacting to bullying, rather than the perpetrator. The management of these situations by schools were said to have sometimes resulted in young people being excluded from school, or parents choosing to withdraw their children from school.
Some participants believed that this situation has improved for the current generation of Gypsy and Traveller school children. Others spoke about their children having experienced similar or worse discriminatory behaviour than they had in the past and struggling to feel a sense of belonging as a result.
To combat feelings of being an outsider at school, participants discussed hiding their own or their child’s ethnicity, to avoid potentially unfavourable treatment. This is explored in more detail in our culture and identities bulletin.
Community members also discussed feeling that their Gypsy or Traveller heritage directly impacted how teachers perceived them and spoke of experiencing ostracisation and discrimination as a result. Historic examples were given of Gypsy and Traveller children having to undertake manual jobs around the school while other children were in lessons.
Participants felt that generalisations about Gypsies and Travellers and misunderstanding of their culture could influence differential treatment, including perceptions that children are not worth investing in as they lack academic capability or will leave school early to get married.
Some participants stated that their children had fared well at school and had gained qualifications at college level and above. Meanwhile, others saw a lack of progress in providing appropriate education for the community through generations, and believed schools had failed Gypsy and Traveller children, irrespective of their academic capabilities or aspirations.
One participant described having learnt to read in prison, having not learnt to do so at school earlier in life. Participants described how low expectations from teachers and lack of support in school can result in children lacking confidence in their own abilities and rising only to the low bar they believed had been set for them.
Some participants highlighted the perceived mental health impacts of negative school experiences on children from Gypsy and Traveller communities. They described how their children were extremely unhappy attending school, because of bullying or a sense of not fitting in.
Despite the challenges, some participants described faring well in school. This could be supported both in the home and school environments. At home, some described their parents encouraging learning from a young age and this preparation provided a sound foundation for later learning at school and independently.
Positive school experiences were also linked to supportive teachers with effective conflict management skills and acceptance of diversity and cultural differences. Feeling accepted was described as very important, and participants provided examples of how acceptance could be supported, such as setting up a “Gypsy club” to improve relationships between children and aid understanding of Gypsy and Traveller culture.Back to table of contents
A lack of flexibility and cultural sensitivity was reportedly linked to the decisions of some parents to withdraw their children from schools and home educate instead. Challenges faced by those who choose to home educate were recognised both by community and local authority participants in relation to digital exclusion and the lack of a solid educational foundation for some parents to draw on when schooling their own children.
Community and local authority participants suggested that providing learning materials and practical support would be helpful in supporting parents in their efforts to home school children. Meanwhile, unannounced visits to monitor home schooling were viewed by community participants as less constructive and less welcome.Back to table of contents
Participants acknowledged that literacy issues and low educational attainment among Gypsies and Travellers could significantly reduce their employment options and limit their opportunities. Some participants said they preferred occupations for which vocational rather than academic qualifications and skills may be required. These included woodwork, landscaping and gardening, tarmacking driveways, and delivery work. Some described learning the skills for these roles through practical experience working alongside family members.
Community member participants noted additional barriers to employment, including perceived negative employer attitudes and preconceived ideas about Gypsies and Travellers. This made some people feel that they had to hide their identity to gain or retain a job.
Participants also described what they perceived as discriminatory behaviour in their workplaces, including job loss once an employer found out their ethnicity.
Other community members described positive experiences, where they had found rewarding employment working with Gypsy and Traveller communities or within other sectors. These positive experiences centred around being granted the same opportunities as others without having to hide their identity. Some participants also highlighted examples where employers had been culturally sensitive, for example by allowing increased flexibility for travelling when required.
For many community members, self-employment was reported to be a preference over working for an employer. This was both through a desire to be self-sufficient and because of the perceived discrimination experienced from employers and colleagues in workplaces.
However, people also noted that it can be difficult to find business as a self-employed Gypsy or Traveller because of negative public perceptions.Back to table of contents
Community members discussed how technological advances in farming and the introduction of licences for selling scrap metal had forced people to adapt to new occupations. As a result, some no longer felt they could continue working in jobs they had done all their lives. At the same time, these changes were linked both to a supposed need for improved education and skills amongst participants, as well as to changed approaches to travelling. In the past, families were said to travel year-round to find work in farming or scrap whereas travelling is now reportedly linked more to cultural and social activities than work.
Some described the challenges of finding alternative employment and a sense that legislation, such as the requirement for licences to collect scrap metal, disproportionately affects Gypsy and Traveller people (see our Gypsies’ and Travellers’ lived experiences, justice, England and Wales: 2022 bulletin).
Some community members also spoke fondly of travelling for work in the past.
Regardless of the type of employment community members undertook, participants repeatedly discussed a sense of pride in working hard, and having a strong work ethic was seen as important. This is linked to the importance of kinship within Gypsy and Traveller communities, and the need to be able to provide for your family.Back to table of contents
Recognising the specific needs of Gypsies and Travellers was highlighted as essential to improving their educational outcomes and employment prospects. Participants highlighted a need for more positive engagement between Gypsies and Travellers and education providers to increase understanding, cultural sensitivity, and a sense of acceptance.
Specific suggestions made by community participants to enable and encourage greater participation of Gypsy and Traveller children in mainstream education included:
consistently granting absences for cultural reasons including travelling (and not only for the purposes of work)
inclusion of Gypsy and Traveller culture within the syllabus
enabling parents to opt out of classes they deem culturally inappropriate for their children
Participants also felt that it would help young Gypsies and Travellers to enter the labour market more successfully if they were able to access more practical learning and qualifications, for example via apprenticeships at a younger age, particularly for those who may be more interested in preparing for work than further education.
For those choosing to home school their children, the provision of constructive, practical support with learning materials was suggested as more helpful than monitoring whether parents were providing tuition at home.
Central government participants also described promising practices in working with Gypsy and Traveller communities in educational settings. These included improving cultural competency in schools to encourage greater awareness, understanding, and empathy.Back to table of contents
Bricks and mortar
This term is used commonly by Gypsies and Travellers when talking about homes which are permanent structures, such as houses or flats.
In this bulletin, "community members" and "participants" refers to people currently living in England and Wales, aged 16 years and over, identifying as Gypsy or Traveller, who took part in this research. Where quotes have been used from local or central government participants, this is explicitly stated. We aim to portray the views of participants and to reflect their words as closely as possible. Some quotes have been edited for language and grammar to improve accessibility, without changing the content or meaning.Back to table of contents
More information about the background and rationale, approach to sampling and recruitment, design of the material and approach to analysis can be found in our accompanying methodology article.Back to table of contents
Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 7 December 2022, ONS website, statistical bulletin, Gypsies’ and Travellers’ lived experiences, education and employment, England and Wales: 2022
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 1633 455674