Traveller Education

Traveller Education (NI)

The Department of Education has offered a definition of the Irish Traveller Community as “a community of people….who are identified (by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, cultures and traditions, including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland. This includes those Travellers who live in ‘settled’ accommodation.”

It has been reported recently that 92% of Travellers leave school with no qualification, only 11% of their community is in paid employment and infant mortality is ten times the national average.

Recent figures from the Department of Education show that there has been a steady rise in enrolment of pupils from the Traveller community in primary and post-primary schools over recent years.  For instance there has been a rise in Traveller children in primary schools from 452 in 2000/01 to 572 in 2008/09.  Similarly the number of Traveller children in post-primary schools has risen from 153 in 2000/01 to 191 in 2008/09.  However it is noted that of these post-primary Traveller children two-thirds (67%) are on the SEN register.

In recent years there have been moves to encourage greater participation of Travellers in full-time education at all levels.  Most notably in September 2008 the Minister of Education, Caitriona Ruane, established a Taskforce on Traveller Education, the aim of which is to develop an action plan for Traveller education.  The taskforce is aiming to explore how the statutory sector and the organisations which are supporting the Traveller community can work together to ensure better educational outcomes.

The Department of Education, in consultation with the Education and Library Boards and the Taskforce for Traveller Education, has also prepared a draft school circular providing guidance to schools on the education of children and young people from the Traveller community and also on the inclusion of the Traveller community in all Northern Ireland’s schools.

The draft circular was out for consultation from 11th September 2009 for 12 weeks until 4th December 2009.  The Department is now collating all responses and the final Circular will be issued in early 2010.

Further work and awareness raising is ongoing.  For instance on 11 March 2009 the Joint North South Traveller Education Conference was held in Newry at the Canal Court Hotel attracting 170 delegates from across Ireland. (See DE website)

Traveller Education (RoI)

Children from the travelling community have exactly the same rights to education as anyone else. In addition, they are entitled to have their culture recognised and valued. However, they are among the most educationally disadvantaged groups in Ireland. Although 90% of primary aged children attend school, a significant proportion do not go on to secondary education.

Children from the travelling community are encouraged to attend mainstream schooling wherever possible, but it is recognised that parents have the right to choose alternative education if they so wish. Although many traveller children attend mainstream school, a number attend Junior Traveller Training Centres.

In the last twenty five years education for children from traveller backgrounds has improved greatly. Back then only 4000 traveller children were in primary schools and 100 in secondary schools, more than half of them in segregated classes or receiving special help or support. Nowadays the figures are 6000+ in primary and 1400 in secondary with most receiving help in ordinary classes.

Schools are provided with additional funding to enable them to use outreach to help travelling families participate in school life and the Visiting Teacher Service has a role in encouraging participation. In addition schools can apply for special funding to employ a resource teacher for travellers. Where this is provided, traveller children should be educated mainly within their the main classroom. Transport can be provided for pupils.

Making traveller children feel welcome is important and you should show that their culture is recognised and celebrated; displays can be helpful. They will probably need to be assessed for numeracy, literacy and ICT since they are less likely to have had experience of ICT beyond the use of a playstation. It may be necessary to have more practical work in the early stages as some of these children may not have had much experience of sitting in a classroom all day. Be aware of their possible insecurities and give them a ‘safe haven’ which they can use if they wish at breaktimes and lunchtimes.

Further Information

Traveller Education Guidelines (Primary) [from the Department of Education & Science]
Traveller Education Guidelines (Secondary) [from the Department of Education & Science]

Peter Mullan, Media Officer can be contacted on 018047764 or 086 2643 558

Traveller Education is receiving much more attention in England and there are a number of useful publications available at and