A group of young people from Derry who act as Young Ambassadors for Save the Children, have addressed the Stormont Education Committee, so that the voices of young people will be heard in the education debate.
Education Committee members Daithí McKay, the 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 Ambassadors had earlier met Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell, MLA, 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.
Marie McGrellis (18), from Derry, a University of Ulster student, who chaired the discussion with the politicians, said that Save the Children’s Youth Ambassadors would like to address the Assembly’s Education committee.
“I hope our campaign gets taken to the next level and our aims, which are to get funding to schools and for children to have more say in how the money is spent, will be taken into account”, she said.
SDLP Education spokesmen Conall McDevitt and Sinn Fein Education spokesman Daithí McKay said the Education Committee would shortly be discussing the roles of School Councils and asked Save the Children’s Young Ambassadors to make a presentation.
The young people told the politicans they wanted more transparency in how school budgets are spent, to ensure pupils from poorer backgrounds receive enough help.
Jack Thompson, (19), a Save the Children Ambassador from Derry, said 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.
“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 education and schools should be held accountable for the resources which they are given in their budgets.
Niamh McGeogh (17), also from Derry, said money was being wasted in some schools and increasingly families were being asked to make voluntary contributions but were never informed what the money was being used for.
Another Derry ambassador, Emilio Chiquito, (18), said MLAs who called for an increase in the education budget should be supported. He added that his family had to pay an extra £900 pounds a year towards the cost of school transport.
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 she has given a great education but many other young people were not getting the same opportunity to break the poverty cycle. She said that Student Councils in schools should have more say in how the money is spent.
Daithi McKay, MLA, said : “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.
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.