Northern Ireland news

Education chiefs `not doing enough' to tackle 11-plus stress

The report found that transfer tests were denting confidence

PUPILS have expressed dismay that not enough is being done to address the mental health issues caused by 11-plus tests.

Young people this week met education officials to discuss the findings of a human rights report.

It found that transfer tests were denting confidence and children's wellbeing was suffering.

Pupils told of not sleeping, loss of appetite, crying, anxiety, depression, and not attending school "for fear of a test".

The findings are contained in a report from Right to Education, which was facilitated by Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR).

It undertook the research because the Education Authority (EA) and Department of Education do not monitor the mental health impact of selection.

Pupils from Coláiste Feirste and Belfast Model School for Girls were among a group to present the report to both the EA and department Permanent Secretary Derek Baker.

The group told Mr Baker he had the power to implement "immediate protections" for children to assess their mental health before, during and after taking selection tests.

It also said the department should take steps to mitigate harms in school.

After the meeting, young people said they were told little could be done and decisions would need to be made by assembly members.

Coláiste Feirste pupil Annie Nic Mhanáis said it was not fair that children have to go through "physical and mental stress".

"We asked the permanent secretary of the Department of Education to develop a mental health and wellbeing checklist for all pupils engaged in the transfer test," she said.

"He said that he could not do this."

Niamh Ní Nualláin said pupils were angry that nothing was being done to help young people who were "struggling with mental health issues because of the pressure of the transfer test".

Teacher Caoimhín Mac Colaim said he found it "frightening that despite the anxiety and health issues that young people have spoken of in this report" that no one would introduce steps to safeguard wellbeing.

Seán Brady from PPR said: "Passing the buck to the authorities and non-existent MLAs will do nothing to protect children in the here and now.

"The permanent secretary and the Education Authority have the power to implement the recommendations developed by this dedicated group of pupils and teachers. It is hard to believe that they do not already have in place procedures to assess mental health distress caused by academic selection."

Mr Baker said last night he appreciated the significant work that went into preparing the report.

"The voice of children and young people comes across strongly. I was interested to hear first-hand the views of pupils and teachers and to talk particularly about the transfer tests and more generally about the issues encountered by young people in our society," he said.

"I note the findings around mental health and wellbeing. Our children and young people are facing increasingly complex pressures, both in and outside of school, and we place a high priority on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. The Department of Education is currently working jointly with the Department of Health, Public Health Agency and the Education Authority to develop a wellbeing framework that will aim to enhance support for children and young people.

"Academic selection for admission to post-primary school continues to be a significant issue in Northern Ireland and it will be for a future minister to consider the recommendations of the report."

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