Department of Education Needs to do More to Include Pupils in School Life

26 March 2015 News

NIYF Stormont.26.3.15 - web.jpg

PUPILS are unaware of Department of Education guidance on how they should participate in school life.

That’s one of the findings from a study carried out by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF), for the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, which is being launched today.

The study involved 12 School Councils from both primary and post-primary schools and was youth-led by a steering group of six young people from the Youth Forum’s Executive Committee and the Commissioner’s Youth Panel.

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, said:

“When it last examined our government in 2008 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child was concerned that little progress had been made to protect a child’s right to have a say (article 12) in education and law policy.

“It recommended that Government ‘strengthen children’s participation in all matters of school, classroom and learning which affect them’.

“There are over 310,000 primary 1 to year 12 pupils in schools” the Commissioner continued.NIYF Stormont group shot - 26.3.15 - web.jpg

“That’s 310,000 individuals with ideas, suggestions, opinions and sensible solutions to issues they face in their schools every day.  Surely, if the customer is always right then when it comes to schools, we have to find out what the main customer thinks about the service they are receiving.”

In 2014 the Department of Education published Guidance on Pupil Participation, where it stressed the importance of making sure young people’s opinions are heard and listened to.

Chris Quinn, Director of Northern Ireland Youth Forum, said: “It was clear that those teachers involved with school councils often go over and above in terms of what is expected in the curriculum.

“There needs to be more support for teachers and additional resources made available if the Department of Education is serious about pupil participation.”

The benefits of effective pupil participation have been widely studied. It can contribute to improving pupils’ attainment, increased self-esteem and enhanced ability to express themselves.

It can also result in involvement outside of school within the pupils’ community and wider society, including them taking an interest in politics and civic leadership.

Koulla concluded: “During this and previous work carried out by NICCY, it is clear that even where structures exist they are a mixed bag. While some were good, others were tokenistic, were not taken seriously or were not effectively managed by staff.

“It is not acceptable that we don’t know how many school councils or pupil participation forums there are in Northern Ireland, how good they are or how much they contribute to school environment.

“The Minister made a commitment to review the guidance and if sufficient progress was not made, to consider the case for stronger action. I will be asking the Minister to timetable this review, establish a baseline of pupil participation throughout Northern Ireland and make sure it is assessed through school inspections.

“Further consideration should then be given to developing a compulsory policy on pupil participation”


Notes to Editors

  • The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People was established in 2003 by the Assembly and Parliament to: “safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people”.
  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a list of 42 promises (articles) made by governments. The UK Government signed and ratified the UNCRC in 1991 and should work to make all of the articles part of the law. This includes laws in Northern Ireland.
  • The findings of the report will be launched at an event at Stormont Hotel on Thursday 26th March at 11am
  •  Media interviews on request with Koulla Yiasouma, Commissioner for Children and Young People and young people from Northern Ireland Youth Forum
  • Please contact Patrice Morris, Communications and Engagement Officer, NICCY on 07917 544 177 or email

Research Briefing

The Northern Ireland Youth Forum carried out the study with 12 schools from the following categories:

•  1 Catholic Maintained Primary School

•  1 Irish Medium Primary School

•  3 Controlled Post Primary Schools

•  3 Catholic Maintained Secondary Post Primary Schools

•  1 Catholic Grammar Post Primary School

•  2 Integrated Post Primary Schools

•  1 Special Education Post Primary School

This included: 11 teachers, 110 school council members and 172 other pupils who did not sit on their school councils.

Pupil Participation can:

  • help pupils acquire a range of valuable skills, including leadership, negotiation and teamwork
  • help to build children and young people’s self-esteem and enhance their ability to express themselves
  • contribute to improving pupils’ attainment
  • be involved in participative decision making in schools
  • generally make education a more enjoyable experience
  • support individuals who find learning difficult and to help pupils better understand the learning process and see their learning as important and
  • Result in increased engagement outside of school within their community and wider society including taking an interest in politics and civic leadership.

Other findings of this study (11 teachers and 12 school councils) identified:

  • 81.8% of teachers that are unaware of Department of Education guidance on how pupils should participate in school life
  • 75.3% of pupils feel cared for, 67.6% feel included and 57.7% feel listened to however, only 38% feel that their views are taken seriously.
  •  94.6% of pupils surveyed, 87% of pupils on schools councils and 80% of teachers were unaware of support materials for school councils such as NICCY’s Democra School.
  • The United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child is known to 80% of most teachers and 56% of pupils.
  •  83.8 % of pupils are aware of who is on their school council, 71.1% are aware of how to get on it and 66.9% are aware of how to approach the school council with an issue. However, only 45.7% are aware of the difference it makes within their school.
  •  A lack of training for teachers and pupils in effective participation
  • Some councils discussed irrelevant issues
  •  A lack of other participation mechanisms, which are designed to gather opinions from pupils who don’t have a school council, aren’t on the school council or who are unlikely to be on a school council.
  •  45.7% of pupils that were unaware of the differences the council had within their school.