Prof. Siobhán O’Neill says transfer tests having harmful effect on mental health of individual children

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Professor Siobhán O'Neill has said the continuation of transfer tests in the North is having a harmful effect on the mental health of individual children and is perpetuating economic inequality.

The Derry-based mental health expert said academic selection needs to be phased out by all schools in the North.

“I have spoken publicly many times about the harmful impact that the current system of transfer from primary to secondary school has on the mental health of individual children, the role that it plays in perpetuating the economic inequalities, and the harm that is caused by the myth that the test measures innate ability and, somehow, sorts children into appropriate schools,” the Claudy-native told a briefing of the Stormont Education Committee.

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Ms. O’Neill called for the recommendations of an independent review of education conducted as part of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal to be implemented.

Professor Siobhán O'Neill.Professor Siobhán O'Neill.
Professor Siobhán O'Neill.

These include a proposal that ‘the transfer process move away from being based on a one-off test at age 11 towards use of a pupil profile informed by statutory assessment and enabled by computer adaptive testing, as this technology develops’.

"The academic experts who conducted the independent review provide a clear pathway to reforming the system whilst maintaining parental choice and respecting the diversity of sectors, which is very important.

"That needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency. I think that they state that it is an urgent action that should be done within three years,” Prof. O’Neill said.

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Professor Siobhán O’Neill warns ‘unless we act on children’s mental health, we’l...

The North’s mental health champion outlined the long-standing impact deprivation is having on children.

“Social inequalities and poverty have a fundamental and lasting direct impact on mental health. They lead to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and adversities that, in turn, cause trauma and mental illness.

"While we need the Programme for Government to focus on well-being, and while childcare and anti-poverty strategies are necessary, the role of the education system in perpetuating the inequalities that cause mental illness must not be ignored.

"The recommendations of the independent review of education and the plan for a single education system, which values diversity and offers choice to parents, would give children and young people the opportunity to develop skills, qualifications and social capital and enable them to stay healthy, achieve their goals and thrive in a prosperous society,” she said.

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