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Why it’s time that children were heard as well as seen

For too long the debate on post-primary transfer has been raging on among adults — and for too long the pupils involved have been sidelined to the edge of the debate.

Of course, it is P6 and P7 pupils who experience the most stress and anxiety while the acrimony and dogma is propelled back and forth over the airwaves and splashed across acres of newsprint.

Today, I launch my ‘Talking Transfer’ consultation report. This report explores the views and experiences of pupils who went through the rollercoaster transfer process last year. This is the first time the children directly involved in the process can be heard.

There are those who would say that children at 10 or 11 are not able to express their views about their experiences, discuss complex issues, or make informed decisions.

However, in speaking to pupils during the consultation, their ability to articulate opinions constructively was evident — they are very able to contribute to the debate.

I believe it is important that they are not passive recipients of adults’ decision-making and that they should be a real part of that decision-making process.

They are the on-the-ground experts on post-primary transfer and they have been overlooked.

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As Commissioner for Children and Young people, I decided to look at the post-primary transfer issue in some detail for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was concerned about the changes to the post-primary arrangements and the impact this could have on P6 and P7 pupils.

Secondly, pupils and parents contacted me throughout 2009 to express concerns about the arrangements for transfer. Pupils in several schools asked me explicitly to investigate the issues further.

Thirdly — and very importantly — I felt it vital that pupils most directly affected by the transfer arrangements and at the centre of the transfer process were given the opportunity to express their views. There are those that question why a commissioner is sticking his or her nose into issues that affect them and political decision-making.

When the Assembly created the post of Commissioner for Children and Young People, they specifically said that the commissioner had to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people.

I’m sure you will agree that post-primary transfer arrangements should be in the best interests of every P6 and P7 pupil.

The Assembly also said that my job was to monitor Government to make sure that it was working properly for each and every child. And equally, I had to listen to the views of children and young people.

The Talking Transfer report does not represent my views, but those of nearly 1,000 P7 pupils from 29 schools across Northern Ireland that took part in the consultation. Parents’ and teachers’ views are also recorded in order to contextualise pupils’ perspectives.

From the consultation, pupils identified three main calls. These were to make sure Government and key stakeholders consult with pupils when reviewing the transfer process; that politicians need to make a decision about transfer; and that a concerted effort must be made to reduce the pressure and stress experienced by pupils going through transfer.

My own call is that the well-being of each pupil must be at the centre of decision-making in education.

Everyone involved in education will rightly say that they do, indeed, do this. But my challenge to every educationalist, every politician, every parent and everyone who believes they can contribute positively to this debate is this: stop, think and make sure the well-being of every pupil is really at the centre of your decisions.

Patricia Lewsley is Commissioner for Children and Young People

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