Crisis fears over hundreds of Roma and Gypsy pupils excluded from Sheffield schools

Stephen Betts, of Learn Sheffield.
Stephen Betts, of Learn Sheffield.

Sheffield's education system is facing a crisis over the high numbers of Roma and Gypsy children being excluded from school with some subjected to racist bullying.

That is the shock claim in a report by the national Roma Support Group which revealed the city has one of the highest rates of exclusions in the country for pupils from traveller backgrounds.

Andy Shallice, of the Roma Support Group.

Andy Shallice, of the Roma Support Group.

The report showed there were about 680 fixed-term exclusions handed out to a roll call of 1136 Roma and Gypsy pupils in 2015/16.

In the same year 22 pupils were chucked out of school permanently - which accounted for a third of all Roma or Gypsy permanent exclusions in England.

It highlighted a number of complex reasons behind why the rate is so high and raised concerns that racist abuse is provoking some children from minority backgrounds into causing trouble.

The Roma Support Group warned the situation has hit crisis levels and called for a national inquiry to be launched into the issue.

Chris Searle.

Chris Searle.

Report authors Laura Greason and Andy Shallice said: "This situation of rising exclusions is a crisis for Roma pupils, made all the more tragic by the fact that many Roma families migrate to the UK to escape a discriminatory and segregated school system only to find the education system in the UK excludes them too."

The document puts Sheffield as the third highest area in the UK for Roma and Gypsy children, behind only Bradford and Kent.

Just under two thirds of those children received a fixed-term exclusion in 2015/16 - a marked rise on the previous year when the figure was around a third.

Permanent exclusions were down to 22 last year from 33 in the previous 12 months.

The issue is also a big problem in Rotherham. There were 500 instances of fixed-term exclusions dished out among 419 pupils last year, meaning some pupils were kicked out of school more than once.

Over in Doncaster 50 fixed-term exclusions were handed out among 307 pupils.

The report highlights evidence from Chris Searle, of the Institute of Race Relations, that Roma and Gypsy pupils are subjected to racist bullying in schools across Sheffield.

One pupil said of their classmates: "They only wanted to fight, fight, fight and call us '“Slovakian bast**ds', 'gypsy bast**ds', and 'go back to your own country'.

"The teachers told us 'all right, go back to your classroom, we’ll sort it out'. But they called us ‘The Slovakian gang’ and excluded us."

It highlighted how Sheffield education authorities had previously worked successfully to help students from Asian backgrounds to integrate into society.

But by the time the Slovak and Roma community settled in Page Hall and Darnall in 2004 "these invaluable resources were far gone."

The Department for Education said the majority of exclusions were for 'persistent disruptive behaviour'.

But the report claimed in some cases this could be down to a misunderstanding due to cultural differences.

It described how Roma boys in secondary school are regarded as 'young adults' in their communities who speak more directly to adults and this could be mistakenly perceived as 'answering back' by teachers.

Sheffield Council gave a detailed response in the report in which the authority highlighted how a new primary inclusion panel has been created with the aim of reducing exclusions.

Stephen Betts chief executive of Learn Sheffield, said he is "concerned about the numbers of exclusions of Roma schoolchildren" but added 2016/17 had already seen a "30 percent reduction in the number of Roma children excluded from secondary schools. "