Education Minister John O’Dowd visited St Cecilia’s College in Derry on Friday to hear from pupils about the benefits of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
The visit followed the minister’s decision to retain the higher level of the payment, which is designed to support young people to stay in education.
During the visit, Mr O’Dowd also met with the school’s principal, Martine Mulhern, senior teachers and members of the Board of Governors. Speaking to a group of students, Mr O’Dowd said it is important for him to hear the opinions of young people.
“The reason I go to visit schools is to meet pupils and hear their views. That is important to me,” he told the girls.
The minister also asked the pupils for their views on EMA payments and if they found the scheme helpful.
One pupil, Emer Gallagher, told the minister: “Most pupils find it beneficial. It helps young people stay on at school and pay for the things they need and also to save for university as well,” he said.
Mr O’Dowd told the pupils he was committed to retaining the EMA payments after they were scrapped in England.
“I had a considerable argument and debate with others on the Executive to retain EMA,” he said.
“The argument of the long term benefit to the education system outweighs the short term pressures on the budget,” he said.
Last year, hundreds of young people in Derry took part in protests, including a march in the city centre, calling for EMA payments to be retained. “The march was quite significant. It showed that young people felt strongly about this issue,” he said.
The minister also encouraged the pupils to take part in consultations from his department in order to have their say on educational policy.
“We have asked for responses from pupils. It is important for young people to make their voices heard.
“You have the opportunity to have access to decision makers and I would encourage you to use it, not just on this issue but in life in general.
“Make your voice heard,” he said.
Ms Mulhern thanked the minister for visiting the school and showed him a number of projects made by pupils in the school’s technology department.