Travellers and education

 

Sir, – Congratulations to Eileen Flynn on her appointment to Seanad Éireann. Many years of brave and hard work within and beyond the Traveller community by Ms Flynn, her family and her community have led to this appointment.

Let’s hope this marks a major policy shift on the part of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael toward the Traveller community.

How Traveller children are supported in the reopening of schools and what long-term policies are developed to address the educational disadvantage of Traveller children will be a good test of this commitment.

Austerity measures in the last recession were particularly savage in the area of Traveller education, with almost all targeted resources removed.

In a particularly ugly twist, the then-government justified the removal of the visiting teacher service for Travellers by saying that Traveller organisations had called for an end to segregated services.

Traveller organisations had in fact also pointed out that there should be a ring-fencing of these targeted resources given the significant disadvantage of Traveller children in education – in their experience, their attendance, their retention and their outcomes from education.

The data-gathering by schools and the visiting teacher service stopped abruptly, and there is no systematic Department of Education accountability for the educational welfare of Traveller pupils, nor any measure of how “integrated services” have supported Traveller students.

There is an urgent need now to tackle the extreme disadvantage of Travellers, starting not just with health but also accommodation and education and to at least acknowledge the responsibility of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for increasing the disadvantage of Travellers in society through their policies.

Appointing a Traveller representative to the Seanad is to be welcomed but it has to be backed by significant resources and what may be unpopular actions. – Yours, etc,

ANNE McCLUSKEY,

(Former visiting teacher

for Travellers),

Tallaght, Dublin 24.