‘One month in’ and continuing to grapple

2nd April 2015

I hope you are enjoying the new website, it is our intention that it will be easier for you to find the information you need, but also to engage with me and my colleagues in NICCY.  Over the next couple of months we will continue to expand how we communicate, both on the website and across other formats.

I am now ‘one month in’ and am continuing to grapple with the various aspects of this vast role. One minute I’m looking at a clause in legislation, the next I am having my picture taken with a hamburger on my head!  The joy of this role however, is meeting with and talking directly with children and young people. I have begun to do this, and it is clearly informing how I approach this role, and how I will take it forward over the coming years.

Some of the work the office and others have been undertaking in recent months has demonstrated that children, young people, their carers and teachers are not fully aware of children’s rights.  This is totally unacceptable and I will be doing a lot more to ensure increased awareness of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and my role specifically.  If I am to be the ‘Champion for Children’s Rights’ it seems only right that we should make sure that children and young people know about me. I am working on one such project at the moment, so watch this space!

I have spent the last couple of weeks thinking quite a lot about our education system and the joys and challenges it brings. Education inequality is an issue that we should agree needs to be addressed, but when you interrogate the detail it becomes an outrage, and one that we must demand resolution on. It is outrageous that instead of being a tool our society uses to alleviate disadvantage, we seem to be exacerbating it through a system based on academic selection, segregation, and one that differentiates so much between children living in poverty and those who are not. For example, children who are entitled to free school meals sometimes forgo them because they don’t want to be stigmatised – why do schools persist in doing this when many have IT based systems that will not demarcate between children based on income?  I intend to be a strong advocate for the ‘Free School Day’ (‘Beneath the Surface’ – Chapter 7). The NICCY legislation is clear that I have to use the UNCRC as my guide and framework, and therefore I am taking very seriously the UN Committee’s 2008 Concluding Observations where they voiced their concerns that:

  • The problem of segregation of education is still present in NI(66 e);
  • Despite the Committee’s previous concluding observations, academic selection at the age of 11 continues in NI(66f).

I have already discussed these issues with the Minister of Education in my initial meeting with him, and I intend to develop both my thinking and plans on this over the next couple of months.

As you may have seen the last month has been very busy, and it is my intention to spend the next few months thinking and planning (and even plotting!) with colleagues in NICCY, children and young people and other stakeholders, as to how I am going to progress my key priorities of education inequalities, child poverty, mental health and the UNCRC’s general measure of implementation in NI(the key processes that ensure the children’s rights such as meaningful participation of children and young people, a national plan and co-operation across government and outside of it –),in NI alongside other key issues that have been identified.  I am looking forward to getting into the detail of some very thorny issues.

Happy Easter and don’t overdose on the chocolate!