It is just one week before devolved powers return to the Northern Ireland Assembly. One week before politicians – some of whom are here today – get to start deciding how education is managed in Northern Ireland!
And today is about making sure children and young people have a say in the day-to-day life of their schools.
In other words, a week before democratically elected politicians sit in Stormont again, we are encouraging schools and pupils to grasp democracy!
Before explaining further can I first explain what my job is, and why we at NICCY want school councils in every single school in Northern Ireland.
My job is to:
Promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people to help them challenge and change the world in which they live
How that applies to today is important.
The main part of my job means is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – what we call the UNCRC.
The UNCRC is a set of promises government has made to children.
One of these promises is that children and young people have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. That promise is in a part of the convention called Article 12.
As all of you know – especially all the young people here – school takes up a lot of children’s lives!
And how can school councils make a difference?
School councils have been around for a long time in some schools. In some they make a real difference; in others they don’t really make much difference. And in too many schools they don’t exist.
What we have found is that where school councils are in place and supported by the whole school community they make a real difference.
Last year, when we began this process we heard from schools in east Belfast, west Belfast and from Rugby in England about the differences that can be made by a school council.
The aim of the conference last year was to:
Develop a sense of democracy among children and young people, to promote school councils and share best practice.
On that day workshops helped us gather and exchange information as well as identifying things that worked and things that didn’t work.
From there we, together with partner organisations and, importantly the input of children and young people, have created the guidance you will be discussing later today.
When you look in the guidance we are launching you’ll see we have heard examples as far a field as Canada and Australia where schools have been turned around for the better.
The guidance is not a fixed guide to creating a school council. It’s not a Blue Peter – ‘Here’s One We Made Earlier’ school council kit.
It is instead a blueprint to built upon, a set of steps to create, nurture, and develop school councils until they reach the stage where they are providing real and tangible benefits to each school.
But what are we going to do with that guidance I mentioned?
Well, later on the 20 schools here today will receive a copy of the guidance together with support from NICCY’s Participation Team. Then, within three weeks of the close of this conference, every, yes every school in Northern Ireland will receive a copy of the guidance.
That is a commitment from my office to make sure that the opportunity, the advice, and the support is available to schools. It is a commitment that each and every school will have a useful, practical tool delivered directly to the door.
The challenge then is to make sure that the guidance does not sit on a shelf.
Last year the then Minister for Education Angela Smith gave a commitment to use the findings of our work to develop a school council policy at the Department of Education.
This year I am calling on the new Northern Ireland Executive, and the new Minister for Education to adopt Democra-School as policy in Northern Ireland schools.
Thank you for listening and now I’ll hand back to Dan and Deboragh
The pack contains: