‘I Am Not Big, Fat or Just Gypsy’: The Racialised and Gendered Experiences of Gypsy and Traveller Girls in School

  • Geetha Marcus
Part of the Studies in Childhood and Youth book series (SCY)


This chapter addresses the main research question: How do Gypsy and Traveller girls frame their educational experiences? Marcus begins with a brief explanation of the types of educational establishments to which the Gypsy and Traveller girls had access. The girls’ own definitions and understandings of education and learning respectively are then foregrounded. The next sections highlight their positive experiences alongside the challenges and obstacles that have an impact on their attendance, exclusion, achievement and attainment. The girls share some common experiences, but there is no single narrative. Most cite negative experiences at school and are deterred from attending mainstream educational settings. Their accounts disrupt the anecdotal myths and perceptions by the public and even within education about Gypsy and Traveller girls. Success in attainment and achievement increases where the girls have positive experiences with non-Traveller peers, school staff who demonstrate support without bias, and consistent attendance in school with little or no interruption. Throughout, Marcus reflects on and synthesises the girls’ views with the existing literature in the field and her own views, using an intersectional approach. Where appropriate, comments from stakeholders are also included to compare and contrast different points of view. The final part highlights silences, tensions and contradictions in the findings.


  1. Ahmed, S. (2004) Declarations of whiteness: The non-performativity of anti-racism. Borderlands E-journal, 3(2). Available at: Accessed 7 April 2016.
  2. Ahmed, S. (2012) On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Allan, J. (2003) Daring to think otherwise? Educational policymaking in the Scottish Parliament. Journal of Education Policy, 18(3), pp. 289–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anon. Academic 1. (2013) Personal communication. Conversation and notes, 18 April.Google Scholar
  5. Anon. Quality Improvement Officer Inclusion. (2014) Personal communication. Telephone interview, 16 September.Google Scholar
  6. Anon. Teacher 1. (2014) Personal communication. Interview and notes, 30 April.Google Scholar
  7. Anon. Teacher 6. (2014) Personal communication. Interview and notes, 5 December.Google Scholar
  8. Arshad, R., Almeida Diniz, F., Kelly, E., O’Hara, P., Sharp, S., and Syed, R. (2005) Minority Ethnic Pupils’ Experiences of School in Scotland (MEPESS). Edinburgh: Scottish Executive.Google Scholar
  9. Back, L. (2007) The art of listening. New York: Berg Publishers.Google Scholar
  10. Bancroft, A., Lloyd, M., and Morran, R. (1996) The right to roam: Travellers in Scotland 1995/96. Dunfermline: Save the Children in Scotland.Google Scholar
  11. Bartlett, S., and Burton, D. (2007) Introduction to education studies, 2nd ed. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Basit, T. N. (1997) ‘I want more freedom, but not too much’: British Muslim girls and the dynamism of family values. Gender and Education, 9(4), pp. 425–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Belton, B. A. (2013) ‘Weak power’: Community and identity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(2), pp. 282–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Benokraitis, N. V. E. (1997) Subtle sexism: Current practice and prospects for change. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Bhopal, K. (2018) White privilege: The myth of a post-racial society. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  16. Bilge, S. (2014) Whitening intersectionality. Racism and Sociology, 5, p. 175.Google Scholar
  17. Boler, M. (1999) Feeling power: Emotions and education. London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  18. Breitenbach, E. (2006) Developments in gender equality policies in Scotland since Devolution. Scottish Affairs, 56, pp. 10–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cemlyn, S., Greenfields, M., Burnett, S., Matthews, Z., and Whitwell, C. (2009) Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller communities: A review. Research Report 12. Manchester: Equality and Human Rights Commission. Available at:
  20. Clark, C. (2006) Defining ethnicity in a cultural and socio-legal context: The case of Scottish Gypsy-Travellers. Scottish Affairs, 54, pp. 39–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Coll, C. G., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., McAdoo, H. P., Crnic, K., Wasik, B. H., and Garcia, H. V. (1996) An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development, 67(5), pp. 1891–1914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Collins, P. H. (1994) Shifting the centre: Race, class, and feminist theorizing about motherhood. In: Glenn, E. N., Chang, G., and Forcey, L. R. (eds.) Mothering: Ideology, experience, and agency. New York: Routledge, pp. 45–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Collins. P. H. (2000) Black feminist thought. Knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Crenshaw, K. (1991) Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), pp. 1241–1299. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Cullen, M. A., Johnstone, M., Lloyd, G., and Munn, P. (1996) Exclusion from school and alternatives. Three reports to the Scottish Office. Edinburgh: Moray House.Google Scholar
  26. Education (Scotland) Act. (1980) Available at: Accessed 25 July 2013.
  27. Education Scotland. (2015) About inclusion and equalities. Available at: Accessed 25 February 2016.
  28. Education (Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act. (2004) Available at: Accessed 20 July 2013.
  29. Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act. (2009) Available at: Accessed 20 July 2013.
  30. EHRC. (2015a) Developing successful site provision for Scotland’s Gypsy/Traveller Communities. Available at: Accessed 21 April 2015.
  31. EHRC. (2015b) Prejudiced-based bullying in Scottish schools: A research report. Available at: Accessed 30 April 2016.
  32. Essed, P. (1991) Understanding everyday racism: An interdisciplinary theory (Vol. 2). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Farris, S. R., and de Jong, S. (2014) Discontinuous intersections: Second-generation immigrant girls in transition from school to work. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(9), pp. 1505–1525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ferguson, K. (2003) Silence: A politics. Contemporary Political Theory, 2(1), pp. 49–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Freire, P. (1998) Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  36. Gewirtz, S. (2006) Towards a contextualized analysis of social justice in education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 38(1), pp. 69–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hall, S. (1991) The local and the global. In: King, A. D. (ed.) Culture, globialization and the world system. London: Macmillan, pp. 19–40.Google Scholar
  38. Hancock, A. M. (2007) When multiplication doesn’t equal quick addition: Examining intersectionality as a research paradigm. Perspectives on Politics, 5(1), pp. 63–79.Google Scholar
  39. Hartup, W. W., and Stevens, N. (1997) Friendships and adaptation in the life course. Psychological Bulletin, 121(3), pp. 355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Heaslip, V. A. (2015) Experience of vulnerability from a Gypsy/Travelling perspective: A phenomenological study. Unpublished PhD thesis, Bournemouth: Bournemouth University.Google Scholar
  41. hooks, B. (1994) Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Journal of Engineering Education, 1, pp. 126–138.Google Scholar
  42. hooks, B. (2015) Feminist theory: From margin to center. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jordan, E. (2000) Outside the mainstream: Social exclusion in mobile families from home-school partnerships. Scottish School Board Association, Dumfries: Millennium Books.Google Scholar
  44. Jordan, E., and Padfield, P. (2003a) “Are these really for us?” Laptops for teachers of pupils educated in outwith school settings. Edinburgh: School of Education, University of Edinburgh.Google Scholar
  45. Jordan, E., and Padfield, P. (2003b) Education at the margins: Outsiders and the mainstream. In: Bryce, T. G. K., and Humes, W. M. (eds.) Scottish education: Second edition post devolution. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 836–841.Google Scholar
  46. Knowles, G., and Lander, V. (2011) Diversity, equality and achievement in education. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  47. Ladd, G. W., Kochenderfer, B. J., and Coleman, C. C. (1996) Friendship quality as a predictor of young children’s early school adjustment. Child Development, 67(3), pp. 1103–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ladson-Billings, G. (1996) Silences as weapons: Challenges of a Black professor teaching White students. Theory Into Practice, 35(2), pp. 79–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco: Wiley.Google Scholar
  50. Lee, K. W., and Warren, W. G. (1991) Alternative education: Lessons from gypsy thought and practice. British Journal of Educational Studies, 39(3), pp. 311–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lloyd, G. (2005) Problem girls: Understanding and supporting troubled and troublesome girls and young women. London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  52. Lloyd, G., and Norris, C. (1998) From difference to deviance: The exclusion of Gypsy‐Traveller children from school in Scotland. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 2(4), pp. 359–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lloyd, G., and McCluskey, G. (2008) Education and Gypsies/Travellers: ‘Contradictions and significant silences’. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 12(4), pp. 331–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lloyd, G., Stead, J., Jordan, E., and Norris, C. (1999) Teachers and Gypsy Travellers. Scottish Educational Review, 31(1), pp. 48–65.Google Scholar
  55. Lorde, A. (2007) Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  56. Mandela, N. (2004) Long walk to freedom: The autobiography of Nelson Mandela. London: Abacus.Google Scholar
  57. MECOPP. (2012) Hidden carers, unheard voices. Edinburgh: Minority Ethnic Carers of People Project. Available at: Accessed 21 November 2012.
  58. Mirza, H. S. (2008) Race, gender and educational desire. London: Institute of Education, University of London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mirza, H. S. (2009) Plotting a history: Black and postcolonial feminisms in ‘new times’. Race Ethnicity and Education, 12(1), pp. 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Mirza, H. S. (2013) ‘A second skin’: Embodied intersectionality, transnationalism and narratives of identity and belonging among Muslim women in Britain. Women’s Studies International Forum, 36(February), pp. 5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mirza, H. S. (2015) Harvesting our collective intelligence: Black British feminism in post-race times. Women’s Studies International Forum, 51, pp. 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mirza, H., Ali, S., Phoenix, A., and Ringrose, J. (2010) Intersectionality, Black British feminism and resistance in education: A roundtable discussion. Gender and Education, 22(6), pp. 647–661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Nieto-Gomez, A. (1997) Sexism in the movimiento. In: Garcia, A. (ed.). Chicana feminist thought: The basic historical writings. New York: Routledge, pp. 97–100.Google Scholar
  64. Okely, J. (1979) Trading stereotypes. In: Wallman, S. (ed.) Ethnicity at work. London: Palgrave, pp. 16–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Padfield, P. (2008) Education at the margins: Learners outside mainstream schooling. In: Bryce, T. G. K., and Humes, W. M. (eds.) Scottish education: Beyond devolution, 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 777–782.Google Scholar
  66. Picower, B. (2009) The unexamined whiteness of teaching: How White teachers maintain and enact dominant racial ideologies. Race Ethnicity and Education, 12(2), pp. 197–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pring, R. (2004) Philosophy of educational research, 2nd ed. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  68. Pring, R. (2007) The common school. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 41(4), pp. 503–522.Google Scholar
  69. Save the Children Scotland. (2005) Having our say. Available at: Accessed November 2012.
  70. Scottish Centre for Social Research. (2010) Scottish social attitudes survey 2010. Available at: Accessed 7 November 2012.
  71. Sleeter, C. E. (2001) Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools research and the overwhelming presence of whiteness. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(2), pp. 94–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Smith, J. (2002) Jessie’s journey: Autobiography of a Traveller girl (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited.Google Scholar
  73. Solorzano, D. G., and Yosso, T. J. (2001) From racial stereotyping and deficit discourse toward a critical race theory in teacher education. Multicultural Education, 9(1), pp. 2.Google Scholar
  74. Spivak, G. (1988) Can the subaltern speak? In: Nelson, C., and Grossberg, L. (eds.) Marxism and the interpretation of culture. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp. 271–316.Google Scholar
  75. Spivak, G. C. (1995) Teaching for the times. In: Pieterse, J. N., and Parekh, B. (eds.) The decolonization of imagination: Culture, knowledge and power. London and New Jersey: Zed, pp. 177–202.Google Scholar
  76. Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A., Nadal, K. L., and Esquilin, M. (2007) Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), p. 271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. The Scottish Executive. (2006) Report of the Gypsies and travellers strategic group. Available at: Accessed 24 February 2013.
  78. The Scottish Government. (2015) Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland: A comprehensive analysis of the 2011 census. Available at: Accessed 4 January 2016.
  79. Trepagnier, B. (2006) Silent racism: How well meaning White people perpetuate the racial divide. Boulder: Paradigm Publishing.Google Scholar
  80. University of Edinburgh. (2016). Available at: Accessed 14 January 2016.
  81. Winch, C. (2002) The economic aims of education. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 36(1), pp. 101–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Winch, C., and Gingell, J. (2008) Philosophy of education: The key concepts. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  83. Wright, G. (1986) School processes: An ethnographic study. In: Eggleston, J., Dunn, D., and Anjali, A. Education for some: The educational and vocational experiences of 15–18 year old members of ethnic minority groups. Stoke on Trent: Trentham.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geetha Marcus
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GlasgowGlasgowUK

Personalised recommendations