Save the Children Youth Ambassadors highlight their campaign to unlock education

The Ambassadors campaign seeks to give young people a voice in the education debate and calls for extra resources to be targeted at pupils living in poverty.

MLAs have invited young ambassadors from Save the Children to address the Stormont Education Committee, so that the voices of young people can be heard in the education debate.

Education Committee members Daithí McKay,  Sinn Fein MLA for North Antrim; and Conall McDevitt, SDLP MLA for South Belfast; issued the invitation during a discussion with Save the Children’s ‘Young Ambassadors’ in the Ulster Hall.

The young ambassadors had earlier met Junior Minister Jonathan Bell at Belfast City Hall to launch their campaign to unlock education.  The campaign seeks to give young people a voice in the education debate and calls for extra resources to be targeted at pupils living in poverty.

Politicians, including Anna Lo, Alliance Party MLA for South Belfast; Roy Beggs, Ulster Unionist Party MLA for East Antrim; and Sammy Douglas, Democratic Unionist Party MLA for East Belfast, heard from young people that they wanted more transparency in how school budgets are spent, to ensure pupils from poorer backgrounds received enough help.

Jack Thompson, (19),  a Save the Children ambassador from Derry, said that he came from a family of 11 and the quality of his education had got him where he was today  - studying medicine at Queen’s University - but he said that inequality was affecting some young people’s opportunities.

“If you are from a large family like me it is difficult for families to afford an education for their children in university.  I had a good education but sadly not everyone has the opportunity that I did.  Those who are not as well off as I was will suffer in their education and subsequently in their opportunities after school.”

 “What we are proposing is giving children from a disadvantaged background more access to resources in order to break the poverty cycle”.

He suggested that extra resources, such as modern computers and extra teaching, would help young people from poorer backgrounds to stay in school.

Karl Heaney (19), from west Belfast, said that extra tuition should be provided by schools for children who were finding it difficult to study for subjects such as Maths GCSE, as this would improve the opportunities for children living in poverty.

Nicole Breslin (18), from Derry, said: “The UN Convention on the Rights of the Children states that children have a right to say what should happen when adults are making decisions about them and have their opinions taken into account.  I don’t see this happening in my school or any other schools in Northern Ireland.

She added that she has been given a great education but many other young people are not getting the same opportunity in order to break the poverty cycle.  She said that student councils in schools should have more say in how money is spent.

Sinn Fein’s Education spokesman Daithí McKay, MLA, said there was an onus on politicians to take on board the issues which the young people had raised during the discussion.

“The Education Committee will be looking at the issue of school councils.  Maybe we should be considering as part of that process how to empower them and make them more than talking shops”, he said.

The SDLPs Education spokesman Conall McDevitt, MLA, said he had been in secondary school in Spain during the 1980s and was elected as a member of the school council.  He added the school councils in Spain had decision-making powers and that he was part of an eight-week long strike by secondary school pupils to stop the government increasing student fees.

“I’m not advocating that secondary school kids go on strike in this part of the world, but there is something a bit skewed up in the balance of power in post-primary schools. “

He said he hope Save the Children’s Young Ambassadors would give evidence to the forthcoming inquiry into school councils being heard by the Assembly’s Education Committee.

Roy Beggs, MLA, said young people should be consulted in school councils, so that they could put their ideas to the school governors for consideration - particularly proposals on how funding could be better spent.

Anna Lo, MLA, said the segregated education system in Northern Ireland was wasting resources and that there were currently 85,000 empty desks in schools as well as many empty school buildings.  She said there needed to be collaboration between the four sectors of schools – maintained, controlled, Irish medium and integrated.

Sammy Douglas, MLA, said: “I left school with absolutely no qualifications whatsoever and that was part of life.”   He said it was important to get parents involved in order to raise the aspirations of their children. 

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