Hundreds of circus performers could be forced to give up their jobs if planned education reforms are introduced.
Equity is warning that a proposal to remove a section of the Education Act, which allows travelling performers to educate their children on the road, would “have a huge knock-on effect not just for child performers but also for experienced professional performers with families who could be forced to give up their careers”.
The union’s concerns are shared by circus impresario Gerry Cottle, who has called on the government to recognise that “there are certain professions or ways of life where the rules have got to be more elastic”.
Currently, the Education Act of 1996 makes it an offence for a parent to fail to ensure their child’s regular attendance at a school where the child is registered.
However, section 444(6) of the act gives parents a defence in which they cannot be found guilty of a school attendance offence, provided that their child is of no fixed abode and that they, as parents, are engaged in a “trade or business of such a nature as to require them to travel from place to place”.
This means that children of traveller parents can be registered at one UK school and keep that place even while on the road, using 444(6) as a protection from prosecution.
Now, the government is proposing to repeal the exemption in a bid to boost attendances at schools.
Cottle said: “It’s a nightmare. My daughters are performers and they are worried as there doesn’t seem to be any leeway. It is going to put people out of work, and not just performers but staff as well.
“I think it’s terrible to keep messing about and they [the government] should make some exception for genuine people following a profession of their calling.”
Equity general secretary Christine Payne said the proposed changes represent a “threat to the traditions and benefits of the way of life enjoyed by children and parents attached to circuses and other forms of travelling entertainment”.
“If section 444(6) is removed from the Education Act, Equity would be very concerned that a number of performing parents could be forced to become unemployed,” she added.
Payne, responding to a government consultation on the plans, added that circus parents fear they could be criminalised if they choose to home educate their children by taking them on tour.
The government said its consultation is consistent with the Department for Education’s “work to improve school attendance for all children”.
It added: “Current provisions would still allow families that travel the flexibility to ensure that their children continue to receive education, for example through dual registration at another school while away from the home school.”
However, Payne said: “We consider this to be an inadequate solution. Accessing school places when travelling is likely to be very difficult in an environment when many schools across the UK have a shortage of places.”