Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

August Books 6) Young people in post-conflict Northern Ireland, eds. Dirk Schubotz & Paula Devine

The ARK research centre, with which I have the honour to be loosely associated, does an annual opinion survey of all 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland, and this book pulls together expert essays on some of the findings from the poll (along with a prize-winning essay about teenage life from one of the respondents). Topics addressed include perceptions of sectarianism, poverty, mental health and the structure of schooling, but the two standout chapters for me were on bullying, by Ruth Sinclair of the National Children's Bureau, and sex education, by Simon Blake of the Brook Advisory Clinic.

While all schools claim to be committed to preventing bullying, very few have convinced their pupils that they are serious. Sinclair broadens out the discussion into examining the rather weak and inconsistent attitude of most Northern Irish schools to pupil participation. The evidence is thin but compelling: those schools which are able to reassure pupils that something will be done about bullying are also those with an active pupil council - a concept that was simply unthought of in my day, in my religious-controlled grammar school.

Likewise the concept of anything meaningful in the way of sex education - the only practical information that we got at school about contraception was a samizdat sheet of diagrams circulated by one of the more liberal teachers, not much use for those like me who weren't in the relevant class. Of course, like most kids, I had my own sources of information, but my school failed - and I am sure that most Northern Irish schools failed and still fail - to provide much in the way of useful education about sexuality, preferring instead to reflect on the contents of letters of the Conference of Bishops (several of whom, it turns out, also had other sources of information).

Blake's analysis, augmented by observations by one of his Belfast-based colleagues, is slightly weakened by the fact that they are activists as well, but the figures speak for themselves. Indeed, if anything Blake is too kind; he states that there is little to choose between the various schooling systems with regard to sex education, citing figures which make it quite clear that in fact it is Catholic pupils who are most likely to feel underinformed.

Anyway, it's a nice little book which shows how academic research can become a building block in the wider social policy debate.
Tags: bookblog 2009, world: northern ireland

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