A school in the south of the country has up to 60 Traveller students attending on reduced timetables, which limit the amount of time a child spends in school.
The introduction of official guidelines intended to curtail the inappropriate use of the practice, for example as a type of informal suspension, was delayed last year due to the pandemic.
The system is currently operating without any guidelines or monitoring, and the use of reduced timetables is widespread among Traveller students, according to advocates who addressed the Oireachtas education committee today.
"We know of one Southern-based school where up to 60 Travellers in that school are on a reduced timetable," said Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement.
"The practice needs to be completely eradicated, with a new approach adopted towards retention and progression for Travellers, and those schools held responsible for taking the easy option and operating under a policy of showing little value on Traveller learners."
When guidelines are introduced, there needs to be greater oversight by an independent body such as Tusla or the School Inspectorate, which is not currently planned for, he said.
A “long-called for” Traveller education strategy across primary, post-primary, and third levels must be introduced, with dedicated staff and resources, as well as full consultation with Traveller organisations, Mr Joyce said.
There is no ringfenced funding allocated to Traveller primary and post-primary education, and just half of Traveller students attend DEIS schools, the committee heard.
The negative legacy of segregation remains for Traveller parents, and there continues to be low expectations of Traveller learners and racism within the education system.
This has a detrimental impact on equal access, participation in, and outcomes from, education for Traveller children, according to Maria Joyce, co-ordinator of the National Traveller Women’s Forum.
"Systemic change is required and that needs to be set out in the promised Traveller education strategy," she said.
"That strategy needs to set out a clear vision for Traveller education which is underpinned by equality. Resources, targets, and monitorable actions are also needed.
“Unless the education system looks at itself and addresses its failures with regard to Traveller children, nothing will change. Change is required with the system, and not with the Traveller child that’s in it.”
Tracey Reilly, Pavee Point, told the committee about her own experience of school as an early school leaver. This year she graduated from college with a first-class honours degree after returning as a mature student.
“I left school after primary school due to isolation, exclusion, and marginalisation. After a few days' absence, I was asked what the point in me was coming back as I’d never amount to anything. I felt crushed.”
Traveller students were left at an extreme disadvantage during school closures due to lack of access to IT facilities, the costs of broadband, lack of devices, and resources.