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’.

Blog: Let Our Voices Be Heard As A Ray Of Hope

01 May 2024

In our latest blog, Ihab Maajal, who travelled to Geneva as a youth advocate for Include Youth, writes about his experience of travelling to the United Nations and his pride in winning a Care Day Award. He also sends a positive message to young people everywhere about the power of young people’s activism.

Our blog posts are first published in our E-zine, ‘Child Rights Matters’. Don’t miss out on our blogs, training offers and updates on children’s rights by signing up today.


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Ihab Maajal writes:

In the bustling city of Geneva, amidst the corridors of global diplomacy, a pivotal event unfolded – one that resonated deeply with the essence of empowerment and advocacy. Representing Northern Ireland at the United Nations, our team from Include Youth embarked on a transformative journey, championing the rights and aspirations of young people on a UK platform.

A wide range of feelings, including hope, determination, and a deep sense of responsibility, flowed through us as the curtains came down on this historic event. The UN provided a crucial forum for discussing the urgent problems facing today’s youth. This ranged from systemic obstacles impeding their advancement to socioeconomic constraints. Our constant faith in the strength of young voices kept us moving forward and inspired us to work towards real change and acknowledgment.

Our actions are based on a fundamental principle that is sometimes overlooked in the bustle of administrative procedures and policy talks – young people are living people who should be treated with respect and given opportunity. They are not just statistics or paperwork. Throughout all our interventions, this central message resonated, reflecting the feelings of innumerable young people whose voices were ignored for far too long.

Central to our discourse was the critical shortage of skilled professionals within the social work sector, an issue that strikes at the very foundation of youth support systems. Through meticulous research and first hand experiences, we highlighted the glaring gaps in expertise and resources, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive reforms. By shedding light on this overlooked aspect, we aimed to instigate meaningful dialogue and policy reforms that prioritise the holistic wellbeing of young people.

Getting the Care Day Award was more than just confirmation of our work – it was a symbol of the tenacity and will of all the young people whose hardships and victories we wanted to highlight. Amid the cheers and recognition, at that moment of victory, we experienced a deep sense of humility and thankfulness, realising that our combined efforts may spark change, one discussion at a time.

Let our voices be heard as a ray of hope in the halls of power and decision making, bearing witness to the unwavering spirit of young people’s activism and inclusion. Together, we will keep working towards our goals, speaking up for the under represented, and amplifying their voices until all young people’s aspirations come true and every challenge is conquered.

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Blog: From Youth@CLC to the UN and Beyond

21 February 2024

In our first in a new series of blog posts, Youth@CLC member, Ruby Campbell, outlines some of the highlights from her time as a youth panel member, her determination as a change maker and her latest role as a member on UNICEF’s UK Youth Advisory Board.

Our blog posts will be published in our new E-zine, ‘Child Rights Matters’. Don’t miss out on our blogs, training offers and updates on children’s rights by signing up today.


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Ruby Campbell writes:

I joined Youth@CLC in December 2022 and, looking back, it has completely transformed my life.

Youth@CLC is the youth advisory group at the Children’s Law Centre and it has provided me with an incredible opportunity to become educated on my rights and how to defend the rights of those around me. From actual information sessions to group meetings and events, Youth@CLC instantly made me feel included and simultaneously powerful.

I had a voice and could use it in front of politicians and other stakeholders to enact change in how young people are perceived and treated.

From meetings with the Department of Education, All-Party Group meetings and events with other youth organisations, opportunities to express myself and be listened to have been many.

The most exciting and meaningful experience was attending the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, in May 2023, during an examination of the UK Government and NI Executive’s obligations to protect the rights of children and young people.

A few weeks earlier, the NI Secretary of State introduced the 2023/24 budget, which resulted in massive cuts to services that support the most disadvantaged children and young people, such as youth spending on mental health support and education. I was horrified at this and the wider impact it would have on mental health, as well as children living in poverty.

Schemes like the Extended Schools Programme that provided crucial childcare and food to children was to be scrapped. Children who, in the midst of our crushing cost of living crisis, were coming to school hungry, would be impacted.

Youth@CLC gave me an opportunity to take this injustice to the highest level – the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Last year a panel of young people representing the UK were permitted to speak directly to the Committee on their experience. I was one of these young people and I told the Committee about the devastating impact the budget was bound to have, and the struggle of children and young people living in acute poverty across Northern Ireland. This remains the proudest moment of my life and an example of what can happen if youth voice is allowed a space in the conversation.

Among the Committee’s concluding observations was “withdraw the budget for Northern Ireland for the period 2023-2024.” It doesn’t get any more clear than that.

But my journey with Youth@CLC didn’t stop there. There were follow up events and meetings to make young people aware of the concluding observations, to get feedback and address directly the politicians that ultimately deliver Rights Here, Right Now for young people and children across Northern Ireland.

Youth@CLC allowed me to address politicians at Stormont, to address my peers and sparked in me a determination to see change.

At the next UK examination, a young person from Northern Ireland should not have to go to the Committee and tell them their rights are not just being threatened, but actively rolled back on.

Recently, after being made aware of the opportunity through the Children’s Law Centre, I became a member of UNICEF UK’s Youth Advisory Board, the first and only member to have come from Northern Ireland.

I am so very proud that today I can be a voice on the rights of children in Northern Ireland at a national level.

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