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NI Executive indecision 'hurting secondary pupils' wellbeing'


Professor Siobhan O’Neill of Ulster University

Professor Siobhan O’Neill of Ulster University

Professor Siobhan O’Neill of Ulster University

Secondary school pupils in Northern Ireland have said poor decision-making and communication by the Executive have been a major contributing factor in the situation many young people in education now find themselves in.

A new report, Mental Health Matters, has been released by the Secondary Students Union NI and found that 84% of students felt uncertainty over exams had negatively impacted their mental health during the Covid 19 crisis.

Slow and late decisions over exams and school closures also had a dramatic impact on students.

The report is published following a mental health survey of 2,131 students and features recommendations for Northern Ireland in the future.

It recommends mental health first response and early intervention training should be added to every teacher training course in Northern Ireland, and that annual refreshers are introduced in line with safeguarding training.

Twenty percent of students who used their school counselling service rated it just one out of 10.

As a result, the report recommends more guidance from the Education Authority (EA) to schools on the promotion and delivery of counselling within schools and that this guidance should be created with students.

It also claims that the current EA provision of one counsellor per school, half a day per week, is no longer meeting the needs of students and should be at least doubled.

The report was launched at a live event yesterday in which young people discussed the findings with a panel of MLAs and NI Interim Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O'Neill.

Morgan Shuttleworth, SSUNI Mental Health Officer, said the sheer volume of responses highlights the volume of the problem.

"This was the epidemic before Covid and will only be exacerbated by the pandemic," he said.

Lucy Brennan, the Working Group chair, added: "The recommendations of this report are key.

"The survey demonstrates both the desire and need for change in this area in Northern Ireland, but the recommendations set out a clear road map as to how we begin to tackle this problem, created by students, for students."

Cormac Savage, SSUNI president, said the findings of the survey amount to "an important piece of research".

"It allows decision-makers an insight into the mental health of a sample of 2,000 students," he said.

"It is imperative the recommendations are given proper consideration and acted upon by the relevant bodies."

Among the key findings, the SSUNI said poor communication and delays in decision-making from the Executive has had a major impact the lives of our young people.

Young people also felt that decisions were made without their involvement, consultation or consent.

They also called for a greater investment in counselling services for school pupils.

Belfast Telegraph

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