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Why are so many Roma young people excluded from school?


August 22, 2019

Earlier this year Coram published its report ‘Unfair results: pupil and parent views on school exclusion’ which contributed to the recent government review of school exclusions. We focused on hearing the views of parents whose child had been excluded and also children with and without personal experience of exclusion.
Our report did not focus on why some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded than others, which the government review sought to explore in more depth. In response to our report, we were contacted by the Roma Support Group (RSG) who highlighted that Roma pupils are much more likely to be excluded than other pupils. We offered RSG the opportunity to write a guest blog to explore why Roma pupils are disproportionately affected by exclusion and what can be done.
Please note the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Coram.


The Roma Support Group in east London has long been concerned about Roma children and young people in English schools.  Recently, there was an opportunity to explore the whys and wherefores behind this.

The Timpson review into school exclusions was set up because of the high proportion of both Black & Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) children who are excluded from schools.  But you will search in vain in Timpson’s recommendations for any answers to the problems facing both GRT and BAME young people and their families.

Timpson did ask whether cultural misunderstandings (in his terminology)  might explain the “unconscious low expectations of some children or…..’labelling’ of pupils”.  He concludes that “this review has not proved or disproved the extent to which this is occurring”.


What do the numbers say?

Here’s the starkness of the statistics in England:

  • In 2017-18, ‘Gypsy/Roma’ pupils were three or more  times more likely to experience exclusion, compared to all pupils.
  • The over-representation of ‘Gypsy/Roma’ pupils is less than five years ago
  • But Timpson found it is still statistically significant after controlling for assorted variables


Why are Roma pupils more likely to be excluded?

Some Roma children do not find schools easy; they can arrive at school in the UK with little or no English, and little or no experience of learning at all due to the apartheid systems in the country of origin. English schools have always responded to the needs of pupils – both difficult and easy.  Having students and children from various ethnicities and from diverse cultural backgrounds is not new.  In our report (Fulfilling their potential? Exclusion of Roma students in the English educational system) published two years ago, we found:

  • A failure to view Roma pupils as a specific ethnic group.
  • Stereotypes about the perceived value of education held within the community; Roma young people can fulfil the low expectations they believe the school has.
  • The mistrust parents feel for any institution is real; the experience of segregation puts parents on alert for perceived mistreatment.
  • Few senior leaders in schools see the benefit of promoting positive working relationships with Roma families – not telling but listening; and very rarely in secondaries.
  • Roma boys in secondary schools are young adults in their community; in school, their behaviour may be deemed ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’.
  • Few schools see the benefits of employing Roma members of staff, who are able to work as a teacher, advocate, interpreter/translator, mentor.
  • There is little training for teachers to develop understanding, knowledge or share their own experiences to find positive ways to engage Roma pupils.
  • Roma pupils are rarely able to see themselves reflected in school life.


What do Roma girls and boys say?

Roma girls and boys continually refer to the antipathy of staff and the hostility of other pupils.  A Roma girl in the East Midlands said:

When I went into school, I had friends and they helped me a lot. After two years, everything changed, students started to be racist to Slovak and Roma people. I said, how can we change this?  I went to see some teachers and told them what’s going on but they weren’t listening to me. So, then I started fighting and started to be excluded and then every day was worse and worse…

A boy from Rotherham said:

But the teachers are harsher on Roma students; they wouldn’t let a Roma student stand in the corridor, or would question why they are walking from one place to the next. 


The impact of exclusion

Roma students return late from visits ‘home’.  In Newham, the Roma Support Group supported a son and his mother for over two years after school excluded him and removed him from the roll after being two days late. The Roma Support Group’s youth aspiration project worker explains the impact:

Mum completely exhausted and frustrated; unable to look for work as had to be at home with her son all the time.  The son’s behaviour has deteriorated – he’s become more aggressive, and communication difficulties have arisen.


A tale of two schools

How do schools respond to pupils liable to exclusions?  Ofsted school inspections are contradictory.  Take an academy in East Midlands– attended by the girl quoted above.  In 2016, the school was judged to be inadequate.

Too many pupils are excluded from school… A large proportion of pupils that are excluded are pupils who speak English as an additional language. The strategies that are in place…do not work for these pupils.

In 2019, an emergency inspection again found the school to be inadequate.  They noted:

The number of permanent exclusions and fixed-term exclusions has increased considerably this last year.

This academy is ‘inadequate’; high and rising numbers of exclusions are a contributory factor.

But take another academy in South Yorkshire (with one of the highest number of ‘Roma/Gypsy’ pupils of any school in the country).  This March, the inspection concluded it required improvement but said,

To tackle poor behaviour, the new headteacher has rightly increased the use of exclusion to reset standards of behaviour. This has had a positive effect.

The school ‘requires improvement’ but a high and rising rate of exclusion is positive.


Getting it right?

There are secondary schools with substantial numbers of Roma pupils, and low rates of exclusion.  An academy in the North East (with one of the largest numbers of Gypsy/Roma pupils of any school in the country) had a permanent exclusion rate slightly higher than the city’s average, but a fixed-term exclusion rate considerably lower.  Their Ofsted report finds that, although requiring improvement;

(School leaders)…have managed the formidable challenges of rapid growth and turbulence, and the increasingly complex difficulties faced by pupils, with astonishing tenacity. Innovative pathways to learning help pupils who are new to English to make rapid progress and access an education.

Do high rates of exclusion speak of something else?  A breakdown between the school and not only its pupils, but also its wider community?  The Timpson review did not explore this, but Ofsted did at the South Yorkshire school; they suggested the school needs to:

  • Increase attendance and reduce the persistent absence of Slovakian Roma pupils by working more closely and effectively with their families.
  • Develop the curriculum so that it improves the outcomes for Slovakian Roma pupils
  • Develop the school’s relationships with the Slovakian Roma communities to promote parents’ support for their children’s education

We think that there is an alternative to school exclusions for Roma (and all) pupils.  The answers are there; schools which have the confidence of the pupils, their families as well as their staff.  Until that happens, maybe the powers of heads to exclude students has to be curtailed?


Andy Shallice

Roma Support Group

August 2019

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