Right To Education Young People Meet Northern Ireland Children's Commissioner

A report that makes ‘stark reading’ was presented to the CEO Sara Long of the Education Authority by pupils from the Right to Education group before school finished last week.  The report title ‘Can Make or Break a Child’ hints at the very personal and difficult experiences shared by children and teachers in the transfer testing process each year.   It is an introduction to the state of human rights and academic selection; a key dynamic in the ‘virtually unique’ education system in Northern Ireland.  In 2016 the UN Committee on the Convention on the rights of the Child (CRC) recommended that the NI Executive ‘abolish the practice of unregulated admission tests to post primary education’ yet still some 30,000 ten and eleven year old children have undergone this testing since.

 The Right to Education group, made up of pupils, teachers, human rights and education experts have set about monitoring the human rights of those involved with transfer testing over the last year.  Over 300 young people and over 50 teachers from a diverse mix of schools took part in the human rights monitoring: from urban and rural areas, those who took the transfer test and those who did not, and those who passed the transfer test and those who did not.  The research conducted found that:

  • 92% of teachers felt that the transfer test had a significant (negative) impact on their pupils mental health.
  • 60% of children felt that the transfer test was not good for them
  • 62% of children felt that decision makers were not listening to them with regard to their experiences and ideas
  • 86% of teachers also felt that children were not being listened to

Anecdotally children shared their emotions and anxiety throughout the process and teachers shared their observations of the lasting impact of the tests.

One child respondent said:

"I hated doing it and all the tests before it - I now get really nervous and have had panic attacks. I did not do well I felt really stupid when I got my mark and really, really sad"

And another teacher commented:

“What really shocked me was pupils crying...talking about how they never felt good enough...their emotions were still was devastating to hear this and for me, indicated the damage this test had done. I wondered how years later it could still have such an impact...I think pupils never get over that early experience of feeling like a failure.”

The Right to Education group have devised human rights indicators that they plan to monitor over the next year and have delivered their report to the CEO of the Education Authority Sara Long and the permanent secretary of the Department of Education Derek Baker with an invitation to meet and discuss the recommendations in the report.

There are five recommendations in the report that range from individual schools prioritising mental health and wellbeing care and safeguarding procedures for children undertaking transfer tests, to the Education Training Inspectorate (ETI) monitoring mental health impacts of transfer testing on children in schools and publishing the information annually.

The Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner said in her introduction to the report:

“It was an honour to meet some of the Right to Education group, to hear directly from them about their experiences of the academic selection process and to listen to their ideas on how it should be improved.  Their ideas were not unreasonable nor do they require additional resources and therefore could be easily and feasibly implemented.”

If you would like to read a full copy of the report it is available here

If you are interested in getting involved with the RIght to Education group as an individual or with your school please contact 

Local news pieces analysing the report can be found below:

Academic selection is damaging children's health

Transfer test research makes disturbing reading 

Schools should hang their heads in shame

Grammar schools perpetuate social and economic inequality