Powered By Students, For Students

17 June 2024

Secondary Students Union Northern Ireland (SSUNI), Lauren Bond, highlights the busy work of student activists who are determined to make sure the views of school students are taken into account by decision makers.

Written By Lauren Bond, SSUNI International Officer and President Elect:

Founded in 2020 the Secondary Students Union Northern Ireland (SSUNI) has worked passionately to defend, protect and promote students’ rights in Northern Ireland. We act as a source of support for students by providing them with advocacy experience and opportunities and a space for them to raise their voices on issues affecting them. We work hard to ensure that students are represented in high-level discussions and that those in power consult young people on issues that affect them. SSUNI represents a diverse and passionate community of students through our ‘Member School’ structure. Schools sign up for membership and send students as SSUNI Delegates, providing a space for students from different backgrounds to work progressively and collaboratively together.

SSUNI regularly meet with a range of departments and organisations that shape secondary education such as CCEA, the Department of Education and the Education Training Inspectorate. In these meetings, we represent the interests of students and ensure their views are taken into account by decision-makers. Recently SSUNI met with Education Minister Paul Givan to discuss the issues that matter to young people such as Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE), Curriculum Reform, Uniform Reform and Life Skills Education in schools.

Additionally, SSUNI has produced numerous reports through our Working Groups, formed with SSUNI Delegates and other interested students in Northern Ireland. One such report is our ‘Let Us Learn’ Learning for Life and Work report, launched at Queen’s University Belfast in December 2023. The report is a comprehensive analysis of young people’s views on the range of topics that LLW covers, such as Political Education, Relationship and Sexuality Education as well as Children’s Rights, Mental Health and Financial Education. In March SSUNI attended a Catalyst School NI Design Lab to present our LLW Report and get teachers’ insights. We also shared ideas on how to progress the recommendations of the report. The report has had numerous mentions in Stormont by MLAs and was featured in the Irish News.

Reform of the ‘CAO’ Applications System and increasing the accessibility of universities in the Republic of Ireland for students in Northern Ireland has been a top priority for SSUNI this year. We’ve met with MLAs and TDs, such as Padraig Delargy and Mairead Farrell, on this issue as well as the Universities Ireland Working Group and the NI Department for the Economy to discuss our recommendations on our ‘#CAOReform’ campaign. Our Vice President, lzzy Fitzpatrick, testified to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Higher Education in Leinster House on the issue in February. SSUNI has led a vocal media campaign on this issue and will continue to push for reforms to ensure students in Northern Ireland can access further education opportunities on the island.

SSUNI is a proud member of the Organising Bureau of European School Students Unions (OBESSU) where I attended their Council of Members in Texel in December. Our President, Ellen Taylor, and I recently travelled to the European Parliament in Brussels to attend the European Youth Forum’s Level Up Event where we joined a range of meetings based on topics such as the use of Al, the role of young people in defending democracy and counter-narratives to hate speech. Alongside this, we met with the Executive Office in Brussels to discuss the need for increased international opportunities for young people in Northern Ireland and the importance of educating young people about European institutions to ensure they can still have a strong voice within Europe. We got involved with the European Parliament’s “Use Your Vote” campaign encouraging young EU Citizens in the UK to vote in the European Parliament elections. SSUNI will continue to work in strong collaboration with OBESSU to defend students’ rights internationally and work collaboratively with student unions across Europe.

SSUNI has had an exceptionally busy year, attending numerous events on child poverty, equality and political education, while also running Working Groups with our Delegates on Mental Health, School Uniforms and Modern Languages. We published our ‘Mini Manifesto’ upon the re-establishment of Stormont, which sets out our priorities for the Executive, and we presented it to the Education Minister during our meeting.

We recently held our first ever in-person ‘Student Assembly’, an annual event where SSUNl’s policy is set and we elect our Executive, who runs the Union on a day-to-day basis. The new Executive will focus on forming a ‘Future of Education’ Working Group; a project in which young people will have the space to visualise what education will look like in the future and identify how we can move education beyond mere exams and assessments. Modern languages will remain a key priority for SSUNI in the coming year as we will launch a report focusing on young people’s views on the Modern Languages Curriculum.

Furthermore, we will continue to campaign on our ‘Let Us Learn’ Report and our Feminist Society will be campaigning on the findings of our ‘Sexism and Sexual Harassment in Schools’ Report.

SSUNI is proud to represent the voices of students and is proudly ‘Powered by Students, for Students’.