Undertaken by the OCO in 2007, the Big Ballot is the largest consultation with children and young people in Ireland to date. The initiative was a huge success thanks to the dedication, energy and hard work of the principals, teachers, staff, children and young people in all the schools and centres that took part.
In Spring 2007, the OCO invited all schools, Youthreach centres and Senior Traveller Training Centres (STTCs) in the country to get involved in this unique initiative. The response was fantastic: we heard the views of almost 75,000 children and young people in over 500 schools and education centres, with primary schools representing a very significant proportion of those participating.
The Big Ballot gave children and young people under 18 an opportunity to vote on a range of issues in a referendum-style event held in early November 2007. The five issues were: Education; Having a Voice; Play and Recreation; Family and Care; and Health, Wealth and Material Well-being.
To support the roll-out of the Big Ballot in schools and centres, the OCO produced five sets of resource materials with the assistance of two experienced teams of writers and a lot of support and advice from wider groups of education stakeholders. The feedback from schools on these materials was very positive.
In October, then Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, and her team embarked on a nationwide tour to hear how participating schools were getting on with the Big Ballot and to listen to what children and young people had to say on the issues. The Ombudsman for Children visited more than 30 schools and centres around the country and met approximately 5,000 children and young people and dozens of teachers and principals. The tour received great support from principals and teachers alike. We received a warm welcome in all the schools, which had gone to a lot of trouble to prepare both for our visit and the actual polling day.
The national results of the Big Ballot were announced on 20 November 2007 – Universal Children’s Day – at a special count event in Dublin City Hall. Many of the schools that the Ombudsman for Children visited attended the count event to represent their county. It was a brilliant day which everyone really enjoyed.
Following the event on 20 November, the OCO communicated the results back to schools. Nationally, the issue which children and young people identified as being of most concern to them was Family and Care. The OCO committed to working on this issue and other issues voted on by children and young people in the Big Ballot.
During the months following the Big Ballot, the OCO was delighted to receive considerable feedback from schools and centres that took part. Some of this feedback was requested by the OCO, more was given on the initiative of schools and centres, and the overwhelming response was very positive.
The OCO is hugely grateful for all the support we received at national level from a wide range of education stakeholders and locally from schools and centres, whose enthusiasm and commitment made the Big Ballot such a success.