Gypsies, Mobilities, and Schools in the United Kingdom
- Martin MyersMartin MyersUniversity of Nottingham
Gypsies are a minority community whose lives are often shaped by multiple oppressions. Whilst their ethnicity can be linked to accounts of migration stretching back over 1,000 years to northern India, the historic details surrounding this movement are often contested within academic debates and largely unknown in public discourses. There are similar gaps in populist knowledge about other important moments in Gypsy history including their settlement and often enslavement in many European countries and the devastating impact of the Nazi Holocaust. This lack of knowledge has contributed to the persistence of racist stereotypes about Gypsies, who are often associated with dirtiness, itinerancy, and criminality. Within these stereotypes is a tendency to identify “real” Gypsies as an itinerant, nomadic group of people. While movement and travel remain important elements of Gypsy identity, the reality for many families is they lead relatively settled lifestyles. This is unsurprising given their history; however, one consequence has been for non-nomadic Gypsies to have their identity called into question.
In the United Kingdom, schools are one field where Gypsies and non-Gypsies encounter each other closely. They are also a field in which Gypsy children and families are under pressure to conform to wider educational policymaking. The school often appears to be a context in which the multiple oppressions experienced by Gypsies are foregrounded. Gypsy pupils regularly experience bullying and racism from their peers, other parents, and school staff. Gypsy parents fear their children will lose aspects of their cultural identity by engaging with schools, something exacerbated by concerns that non-Gypsy adolescent culture is driven by risky behaviors such as promiscuity, drinking, and drug taking. At the same time, policymakers have increasingly identified the nomadic Gypsy identity as a category through which to shape and understand the Gypsy pupil’s educational experiences. This framing of nomadic identity within policy highlights some specific structural flaws in how education may or may not be delivered to Gypsy pupils. There has been widespread concern for many years that the biggest underlying factor making school attendance problematic for Gypsy children has been homelessness. Many families do not have secure accommodation not because they persist with a nomadic lifestyle but because U.K. housing policy has actively restricted the development of accommodation such as Traveller sites often preferred by Gypsies. Recent U.K. legislation has made the development of new Gypsy and Traveller sites much less likely by requiring Gypsy families to prove their “nomadic” identity. At the local level there is evidence schools make a distinction between delivering a sedentary education to non-Gypsy and a nomadic education to Gypsy pupils. However, this identification of pupils as nomadic both misrepresents the realities of their identity and also, more troublingly, is often used to explain pupils no longer attending school.