Fighting for the Right to Learn

Thorntree Pupils
Children from Thorntree Primary in Glasgow show the crew of BBC Scotland’s Showland (dir Joseph Briffa, BBC/Hopscotch films 2014) how they continue their formal education and their unique culture.

“Gypsy, Gypsy, Gypsy!” is a playground taunt suffered by children from every GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller group) regardless of how they self-identify. This is equally true for generations of Showman- Traveller children who have tolerated name-calling and physical threats, whilst manoeuvring themselves within an education system ill-equipped or unwilling to incorporate their cultural needs.

Showman-Travellers have traditionally operated seasonal fairgrounds, travelling throughout Scotland from March to November, creating a home in the back stages of your local fairs. Multi-generational families live, work and impart inherited showmanship skills to their children: an education in itself! Nevertheless, parents have long strived to provide their children with a more conventional education by enrolling them into local schools. What they often received, however, was a mixed age/ability and exclusively Showman-Traveller class; the ‘curriculum’ncluded singing songs, playing play-do and cutting paper shapes:

“….they put us all, from primary one to primary seven, in the same class. It was a new school built in the seventies…an open plan school with the library in the middle, classrooms round it with no door, completely open…. all we did all day was read books and sing songs and all the other kids seen this, and they weren’t very happy about it. And I wasn’t very happy about it.” 

This led a cohort of Showman-Traveller women, championed by the “Two Christine’s”, to strive for inclusive education and additional supportith great success. They took on and revived the existing role of Education Liaison Officer (within the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain) which had gone unoccupied for generations, until the election of the first female committee member:

“….we keep meeting these people in the Guild office; you’d tell him your problems and he’d say okay, lovely, lovely well I’ll see what we can do…we’d come back next year…Didn’t know anything about us, about our kids and they didn’t have the authority to do anything about it.  

Then we thought, wait why are we doing this why are we just sitting back and letting these people walk all over us?” 

They went on to break down barriers with education ministers, cultivate relationships with organisations like the Scottish Traveller Education Programme and help implement new measures to ensure schools saved enrolment places, allowed secondary level students to choose higher level subjects (as opposed to being assigned them) and complete their exams at local centres whilst travelling. Thanks to their efforts, Showman-Traveller children now enjoy established rights within the Scottish education system.


One response to “Fighting for the Right to Learn”

  1. […] educational institutions from the late nineteenth century and more recently, highlighted in this blog post by Candace G. Thomas. In recent years the achievements of Show-children include the award of a DUX […]

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