Barriers to learning: Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities

In2Teaching met with Anne Davidson, Principal Teacher in Primary Gypsy/Traveller/Roma Education within the Hospital and Outreach Teaching Service (HOTS), to talk about the support that HOTS provides to children from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. This article looks at the barriers to learning that children from these communities face, and what teachers should be aware of and can do to support them.

Evelyn Wilkins, Web Content Editor, GTC Scotland

Interrupted learning

The Hospital and Outreach Teaching Service (HOTS) provides educational support to children from a wide range of backgrounds who experience barriers to learning. There are a whole host of reasons why a child from a Gypsy, Traveller or Roma community may experience interrupted learning, for example:

  • the child may be unable to attend school on a regular basis;
  • the family may need support with organising routines and getting the child to school
  • there may be other factors that take priority for the family over school such as a family funeral or celebration; or
  • with traveller families, there may be a period of travelling.

Anne explained that “these factors can lead to gaps in a child’s learning, and this is the main barrier to learning for children from these communities”.

Anne also described how the Roma in Edinburgh, who came originally from Romania and settled in the city in 2007, have quite distinct needs that are specific to the community. In Romania the Roma are ostracised and Roma children discouraged from attending mainstream schools. Instead, they are often placed in settings such as special needs schools, regardless of whether they have a need to be there. It is therefore quite common for children from this community to start off with a feeling of not being accepted. Roma children may also have a particular language barrier: “they may speak Romanian but they also have their own Roma language which is difficult to translate and interpret”.

What teachers need to be aware of

“Teachers need to be aware of children who come from Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities and have information about these children. They need to know about the child’s background and the experiences that they have either had or not had.”

In turn, teachers need a real understanding of how a child’s experience can have an impact on his or her ability to access education and learn in the classroom. Teachers also need an awareness of what they can do to help these children meet their potential, which may well be above and beyond the support that they offer to other children.

The HOTS service provides information and support to schools, and also specialist teachers to directly support children. Anne and those at HOTS hope that, by sharing their specialist knowledge, schools and class teachers will build their own capacity to help children with barriers to learning. Anne said that, in this way, “when children arrive at a school at a later date who come from a similar background a teacher can say, 'actually I know that now and I can put these things in place’”. Anne added, “they may still need us but they are able to start from a much more informed position”.

How referral works

If a teacher identifies that a child is in need of extra support, the school should carry out an assessment of needs and build up a profile of the child. The school should begin by providing additional support itself, for example some extra learning assisted hours or resources. If this support is not working then someone from management within the school, such as a headteacher, would make a referral to HOTS.

HOTS would then carry out an assessment of needs and hold a child planning meeting at which the voice of the parent and the voice of the child would be heard, as well as anyone else who was involved. HOTS would next assess what support the school and child should get, or whether the school could do something else. Therefore, HOTS does not automatically provide direct support in the form of a teacher; it may provide advice, consultation or a direction to do something else.

You can find out more about HOTS at:

Further information

Listen to the podcast of our interview with Anne:

Listen to a podcast on the work HOTS does with children who are too ill to attend school:

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