In 2011, 10,500 Travellers were enrolled in school, the majority in primary school.1 Early school-leaving remains a distinct problem in the Traveller community, as 55 per cent of Traveller pupils left school by age 15 compared to 11 per cent of the general population.2 The number of Travellers who have completed secondary school has increased since 2002, up from 3.6 to 8.2 per cent in 2011 but still remains well below the average for the general population.3 Only one per cent of the Traveller population – 115 people – completed third level education in 2011.4
Traveller education has undergone severe funding cuts during the recession with a reduction from €76.5 million in 2008 to €10.2 million in 2013.5 Both the Visiting Teachers for Travellers Programme and the Resource Teachers for Travellers (RTT) scheme were abolished in Budget 2011.6 The Minister for Education and Skills stated that these measures had been deliberate to ensure ‘additional resources provided in the education system are allocated on the basis of identified educational need rather than that of ethnic or cultural background’.7 The Traveller Education Strategy Advisory & Consultative Forum which oversees implementation of the Traveller Education Strategy identified the need for comprehensive data on Traveller education and the Department has committed to introducing an ethnic identifier to address this information deficit.8
Proposed legislation will require schools to include an explicit statement in their enrolment policies that they will not discriminate against an applicant on a number of grounds including membership of the Traveller community. However, Traveller groups are concerned that certain provisions in the draft legislation will impact negatively on Traveller children, in particular the ‘past pupil criterion’ as Traveller parents are much less likely to have gone to secondary school.9 The percentage of Irish Travellers with no formal education was 17.7 per cent in comparison to 1.4 per cent of the general population so the inclusion of such a clause will perpetuate the lower participation rate for Travellers. This policy also poses a significant challenge for Travellers who are nomadic and are therefore unlikely to have had a family member previously attend the school in question.
Discrimination in the education system presents significant barriers for both Traveller and Roma students. The All Ireland Traveller Health Study (AITHS) found that 62% of Travellers experienced discrimination in schools. Identity based bullying by other student’s poses a significant problem. It should also be noted that despite the National Traveller Roma Integration Strategy10 which committed to ensuring greater access to education, Roma children did not avail of the specialised support provided to Traveller children in the past.11
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Restore targeted resources to ensure the participation of Travellers & Roma in education.
Right to educational freedom
The Committee is clear that religious instruction of a particular faith in public schools is inconsistent with the right to education unless provision is made to accommodate the wishes of parents and guardians.12 Almost 90 per cent of schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church while a further six per cent are run by other religious patrons; only four per cent of schools can be described as multi-denominational.13 Article 44 of the Irish Constitution recognises the right of parents to decide that they do not want their children to attend religious instruction in a school which receives public money. This right is also protected in legislation.14 However, despite recommendations by different human rights bodies,15 progress made by the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector to divest patronage16 has been described as ‘slow’.17 The UN Human Rights Committee also highlighted that while some provision was made for multi-denominational schools, there were no plans to introduce non-denominational schools.18
Following a Budget 2012 decision to increase the number of pupils required to ensure the allocation of a teaching post there are concerns in the Protestant community that this will impact negatively on small Protestant schools in rural areas with smaller enrolment numbers. There are currently 194 out of a total of 3146 primary schools which operate under a Protestant ethos.19 The Minister for Education and Skills has acknowledged that this presents a ‘particular challenge especially in any locality where enrolment in their schools is declining to single figures and amalgamation is not an option because there is no other school nearby’.20
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Continue the divestment of schools at a faster rate to ensure greater multi and non-denominational school options are available for school-going children.
Ensure that minority religion-schools are not disproportionately impacted by rationalisation measures
1 Government of Ireland (2012) Census 2011 Profile 7 – Religion, Ethnicity and Irish Travellers, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.32.
2 Government of Ireland (2012) Census 2011 Profile 7 – Religion, Ethnicity and Irish Travellers, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.32.
3 Government of Ireland (2012) Census 2011 Profile 7 – Religion, Ethnicity and Irish Travellers, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.32.
4 Government of Ireland (2012) Census 2011 Profile 7 – Religion, Ethnicity and Irish Travellers, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.32.
5 B. Harvey (2013) Travelling with Austerity: Impacts of Cuts on Travellers, Traveller Projects and Services, Dublin: Pavee Point, p.36.
6 Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [7412/13], 12 February 2013.
7 Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [49494/13], 19 November 2013.
8 Children’s Rights Alliance (2014) Report Card 2014, Dublin: Children’s Rights Alliance, p. 127.
9 Irish Traveller Movement (2013) Submission to Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills re Draft General Scheme of an Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013, Dublin: Irish Traveller Movement.
10 Department of Justice and Equality (2011) Ireland’s National Traveller/Roma Integration Strategy, Dublin: Department of Justice and Equality.
11 Irish National Teachers Organisation, Traveller Education: INTO policies and proposals updated, Dublin: INTO, 2010.
12 UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education (Art. 13 of the Covenant), 8 December 1999, E/C.12/1999/10, para.28.
13 Department of Education and Skills (2014) Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions, Dublin: DES, pp.5-6.
14 Section 30 of the Education Act 1998. In practice, schools may not have the staff resources or the facilities to accommodate a child of a different religion or none outside of his or her classroom for the duration of the religious instruction which may result in the child remaining in the classroom but not participating in the lesson.
15 These include the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination and the report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Ireland. Department of Education and Skills (2014) Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions, Dublin: DES, p.9.
16 The Forum’s Advisory Group, following consultation with parents, recommended three courses of action: divestment of patronage in some schools on a phased basis where this was the preferred parental choice; the provision of Irish language schools which are not as focused on the issue of religious patronage and ensuring inclusiveness of all children in ‘stand-alone’ schools where there is no other school option nearby. Between 2007 and 2014, 61 new primary schools have been established, 44 of which are multi-denominational with a further 20 schools planned by 2017. Department of Education and Skills (2014) Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions, Dublin: DES, p.13.
17 UN Human Rights Committee (2014) Concluding Observations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Ireland, Geneva: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, para. 21.
19 Minister for State at the Department of Education and Skills, Seán Sherlock TD, Dáil Debates: Other Questions [29373/14], 8 July 2014.
20 Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [32508/14], 17 July 2014.
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