Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Education Inequality and Disadvantage: Discussion

4:00 pm

Ms Olive McGovern:

I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak at this session of its examination of educational inequality and disadvantage.

My Department's interest in the issue arises, in the first instance, in the context of our work to promote the voice of children and young people in decision-making. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has overall policy responsibility for ensuring that the voices of children and young people are heard in the decisions that affect their lives. In undertaking this role and as members may be aware, it is normal practice for the Department to provide children and young people with the opportunity to speak for themselves. It is very rare that adults like me speak on their behalf. The exception being made today is a reflection of the fact that the specific pieces of work relevant to educational inequality and disadvantage are works in progress. Therefore, the work has not been brought sufficiently to completion to allow for this to be presented by the children and young people directly involved.

That said, it was the view of the Department that the work under way is so strongly connected to the committee's theme, and specifically to its request for insight into the impact of educational disadvantage on the individual, society and a person's outcomes, that the opportunity should not pass without providing the committee with some of the detail coming directly from children and young people themselves.

Dáil na nÓg is the national youth parliament for 12 to 17 year olds. The most recent Dáil na nÓg in December considered the topic of equality under five domains relevant to children and young people's lives: school; home and community; online; public services; and sport and leisure. For each topic, the participants at Dáil na nÓg were invited to consider two broad questions, namely, what are the equality issues in this place and what needs to be done to improve equality in this place? At the end of the discussions, Dáil na nÓg delegates voted on one area of action for change or improvement. School was the area for action selected by the greatest number of delegates.

The key equality issues in the school topic from the most to the least commonly mentioned were: unequal treatment of students by teachers; school uniform and appearance issues; gender inequality in subject choices; LGBTI equality issues; issues related to curriculum; religious equality issues; and Irish language equality issues.

The first meeting of the Comhairle na nÓg national executive for the period 2017 to 2019 took place on Saturday last , 3 February. The executive will work to refine the topic content further and set out a programme of work to make changes or improvements for young people in that regard.

The purpose of this submission is to give insight to the committee into the views of young people and the changes to which they have given early consideration in the context of the December Dáil na nÓg proceedings. It has been a frequent practice of the executive to seek an opportunity to make a submission to this committee as its work develops. As such, the Department expects to be in further contact with the committee as that work progresses.

The Department wishes to bring to members' attention the work of the Children's Equality Commission, which is also a work in progress. The commission was established by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs with the aim of enabling the voices of children who experienced or understood economic hardship or poverty to be heard directly and acted on by policy makers. Three panels of children and young people were established and the topics identified of relevance to the committee's theme are set out in our written submission. The suggestions outlined for change are in the children's own words and provide insight into young people's views when asked directly about this topic.

The work of the Children's Equality Commission has not yet been completed and the intention is that a video format reporting that work will be available in due course. Engagement with the committee once the work has been completed would be a welcome opportunity for the young people.

In my submission, I have detailed some early work under way regarding reform of the school completion programme. While I do not hold policy responsibility for this area, I will be working with the relevant policy unit to support and ensure that the voices of children and young people are central to the reform process.

I look forward to this afternoon's session and hope that I can be of assistance in exploring the important issues identified for discussion.