Cultural barriers to further education and initiatives for Irish Travellers

Education, at even a mandatory level, is made incredibly difficult  for Irish travellers. Power, at every level, acts as a barrier to equality. As such, the inability of the education system and ‘settled community’ to adjust to incorporate traveller heritage and identities (in addition to many other socio-economic factors) create a near-impossible task of the completion of formal education. In turn, these difficulties can only further compact the multiple difficulties members of the travelling community face it the attainment of further education. This post briefly outlines the extent to which initiatives addressing these  systemic shortfalls have been addressed.

“Education shall aim at developing the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent. Education shall prepare the child for an active adult life in a free society and foster respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, and for the cultural background and values of others.“

Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child


Irish Travellers are a traditionally nomadic people, who maintain a set of traditions and a distinct ethnic identity. It is a combination of these traditions, their nomadic lifestyles, education policy and a lack of inclusion that prevents many traveller’s from entering third level education. Traditionally Travellers were commercial nomads who traded in the rural agricultural economy. Travelling is a fundamental part of Traveller identity, yet today 77% of Travellers live in houses. (Donahue et al., 2005)

In the late 1980’s, the then President of Ireland Mary Robinson encouraged a greater and wider awareness of Traveller culture amongst the general population. She also implemented the Task Force on the Travelling Community, which called for for the prioritisation of Traveller needs and interests and provided much needed new legislation on equality.

The Traveller Health Strategy identifies Travellers as a socially disadvantaged group, and lists that social exclusion and frequent racism are the causes of this classification. While the Irish Traveller community is specifically identified in Northern Ireland as a particular ethnic group (Race Relations Order 1997), the same cannot be said with the Republic of Ireland. The Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community (DOE, 1995) recognised Traveller cultural distinctiveness, and recommended that it should be supported by public policy.

In recent years, education for travellers has become more accessible through government initiatives and policy like the adoption of the five-year Local Traveller Accommodation Plans by all Local Authorities in 2000, additional funding from the Traveller Accommodation Unit for building and refurbishment of Traveller specific accommodation, and a scheme of loans and grants for the replacement of caravans for Travellers. That is not to say that this had lead to an overall increase in travellers accessing third level education, as the difficulties experienced by non-settled travellers have only lessened marginally.

For young traveller children, education is an inevitability. In recent years, the Department of Education and Science has released figures that suggest a near 100% registration of traveller children of the appropriate age within primary schools. This dramatically lowers as the child progresses to secondary level where a large portion of travellers make it only to the junior cycle. This dramatic decrease extends even further to third-level, where in 2008, the HEA estimated that travellers make up just 0.08% of the population.

However, many government initiatives over the past decade have been implemented in order to promote the accessibility of higher education for travellers. The removal of university fees in 1996 made third level education a possibility for many disadvantaged travellers because of cost feasibility and the high levels of unemployment amongst travellers. In 1997 The Universities act was implemented, as was the National Anti-Poverty Strategy. The Education Act of 1998 obliged schools to ensure that the education system respects diversity of values and traditions in Irish society.  In 2002 the DES published Guidelines on Traveller Education in Primary and Second Level Schools, laying the grounds for the possibility of entry into third-level. the ‘Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy’ was published in 2006, and proposed a 5-year strategy to examine Traveller Education including education in preschool and the early years, primary, post-primary, further and adult education and third-level education.


        The ‘Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy’

 •  examines existing provisions and supports for Travellers in education at all levels from preschool to higher education

 • identifies objectives for Traveller education, sets out plans of action, with suggested time scales

 • makes recommendations in relation to optimising or reallocating existing resources

 • sets out expected outcomes

 • addresses all aspects of Traveller education taking a holistic lifelong learning perspective from preschool provision to adult and continuing education. (Department of Education, 2006).





Despite the implementation of policy in recent years, the number of travellers enrolling in third-level institutes is still notably low. This can be seen as being directly in correlation with irregular school attendance and absenteeism in secondary level education within the Traveller community, which The Irish Traveller Movement cites as being caused by negative experiences of travellers within education in Ireland. The ITM state that there is a large level of bullying against traveller children in education coupled with a low level of interaction with settled children. The outcome of education for travellers is also seen as being relatively poor, because of biased hiring practices after third-level. Third-level is unequivocally less appealing if the same jobs are the only prospects that appear to be available after completion. As it currently stands, no government scheme directly addresses the factors beyond economics that directly effect the enrolment of Irish travellers in further education, and that cannot be read as ‘enough’.






Equality Authority (2006). Traveller ethnicity: An equality authority report.


ITM (2001). A lost opportunity?: A critique of local authority Traveller accommodation

programmes. Prepared for the ITM by Kathleen Fahy.


ITM (2004). Irish Travellers in education: Strategies for equality. Dublin: ITM.



Donahue, M., McVeigh, R. and Ward, M.(2005). Misli, crush, misli: Irish Travellers and

nomadism. (A research report for the Irish Traveller Movement and Traveller Movement

(Northern Ireland).


FIGURES AND EXCERPT FROM; Department of Education and Science (2006). Report and recommendations for a Traveller

education strategy. Dublin: Stationery Office.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s