Getting down to business – tackling educational inequalities

29 April 2015 Commissioner's Blog
Koulla Holding a Arsenal Football Scarf

29 April 2015

I can’t believe that I have only done 2 months in this job, it has been so incredibly hectic, but I am beginning to get an overview of everything.  I am still grappling with the reality of being Commissioner for Children and Young People!

Within NICCY we have begun to plan how we will address our priorities. I mentioned these previously, and they include: reducing child poverty, bridging the education gaps, and improving the mental health and emotional well-being of our children and young people. We are working hard to make sure that we are using the unique remit and powers of this office, and not duplicating the work of other organisations.

For me the main joy of this role will be meeting with children and young people from across Northern Ireland.  Over the last three weeks I have met P7 children from a rural community in County Armagh, a group of 16-18 year old social activists from across the North Eastern area, 6-12 year old children from the ‘migrant community’ and members of the NICCY Youth Panel.  Each had their own story to tell and I intend to keep listening to them to ensure that I am doing the things that matter to them.  I look forward to meeting many more children and young people across a variety of settings.

Koulla at Belong event 18 April 15.JPG

Those of you who follow us on twitter (@nichildcom) will know that one of the highlights of the past few weeks came when I attended the Belong NI children’s court, and was given an Arsenal scarf by a boy who supports Manchester United, with the words:

I don’t like Arsenal but I support your right to”.

He reminded us that children’s rights are not negotiable, and we can’t pick or choose them, based on what we do or do not like.

I gave my first evidence session to the Committee for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the middle of April, primarily on the Children Services Co-operation Bill – which will place a duty on all statutory bodies to co-operate in all legislation, policy and services for children and young people. This is a much needed proposal and one, which if properly implemented, will improve outcomes in children’s lives.

The Committee also asked my views on the proposals of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to introduce Age Discrimination Legislation in how Goods Facilities and Services are provided. We left no room for doubt that NICCY is totally opposed to such legislation excluding children under the age of 16.  The Committee had been assured by the Junior Ministers that the consultation on these proposals will be a genuine one and I share the optimism of a NICCY Youth Panel member who stated that she felt this was the opportunity to get the proposals revised.  So a lot of work in the coming months will focus on increasing the support for an all inclusive Age GFS legislation.

In my last blog I shared my thoughts on educational inequalities in Northern Ireland and the need to focus on this as an issue.  I have to take into account the fact that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified academic selection as a significant issue for the children in NI. However, this is a complex issue that will require a range of approaches for it to be resolved, which will include: parental and family support, sufficient income levels, free school day, and an education system that can meet the needs of all, alongside the end of selection on the basis of academic attainment at age 11.  You can see the  Detail story on this which was published today here.

I have talked to parents, young people and teachers about this issue and whilst many agree that our education system needs to change they are anxious about its replacement and want to know the alternatives.  As a society we need to have a proper and meaningful conversation listening to the views of everyone, analysing the evidence from the highest achieving education systems and ensuring that we can learn from each other.

As a mother I had to make choices in the best interests of my children, within the system we had available. They did do the test and now attend grammar schools. They are happy and are somewhere that matches and meets their individual needs, abilities and ambitions. The fact remains that this is not the best system for all our children but I am confident that we can replace it with one that makes sure there is educational attainment and personal development for all our children.

I am determined that we celebrate and enhance the best of our education system, so that all children and young people get their personality, talents, mental and physical abilities developed to the fullest extent, as outlined in Article 29 of the UNCRC.

This will provide our children and young people with an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.

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