Thursday 17 August 2017

12-year-olds should not be left feeling excluded at school, but many are

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Girls tend to be harder on themselves than boys. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of that, and it is backed by research.

Dr Emer Smyth, author of the new ESRI report on the transition to second-level, says it is based on an anxiety to do well, and can include worries such as body image.

Everyone knows a cruel downside of the age of digital technology and social media, are the children, generally girls, whose lives revolve too much around how many 'likes' they get when they post a photograph online.

So, when it comes to the major life changes such as moving up from primary to post-primary, girls are more apprehensive and fret about whether they will be popular and how well they will perform academically in this new context.

A 12 to 13-year-old girl, or boy, should have no such concerns, and the challenge, for parents, educators, and policy-makers, is to ensure that every child, from an early age, is supported to build confidence and self-esteem, and the resilience necessary to deal with life, and life's changes.

It is not only girls who are being shown to suffer at this critical juncture. What the ESRI research also exposes is how children from migrant communities and children with special educational needs suffer most. These minority groups are the most vulnerable: according to the study, young people from immigrant families had fewer friends than their Irish peers, and those with special educational needs significantly fewer friends than other groups. It also tells us that such friendships are key to the settling-in process, so, from the beginning of second level, they are more likely to feel excluded.

Whether it is a language barrier, a cultural difference or a learning difficulty, these children are on the margins, and they should not be.

Thanks to this research, we know the extent of the problem at the point of transition to second-level, because that is when the question was asked. It is fair to assume that marginalisation is a longer-term issue. The last word in Dr Smyth's report is well-being. It is the word that needs to be first and foremost in the minds of all who have a responsibility for children, because if they are not feeling good about themselves, they will not flourish, at school or in life. This September sees the introduction of a well-being programme for junior cycle students but clearly a lot of work needs to be done earlier.

Irish Independent

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