Northern Ireland 11-year-old speaks out about ‘othering’ of non-Christians

3 May, 2023

Pictured: Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr, photo credit: SDLP portrait

A young Muslim student called Yara has penned a letter to Councillor Lilian Seenoi-Barr of Strabane District Council describing how she felt at being described as ‘other’ when applying for secondary school. The letter has been sent to all political leaders in Northern Ireland with the support of the North West Migrants Forum, and expresses concern about the country’s divisive schools admissions process. Northern Ireland Humanists applauds Yara’s campaign and echoes her calls for a more inclusive school system.

Yara’s letter was first published by the North West Migrants Forum on social media after they had forwarded it on to all political leaders in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s current admissions criteria categorises students as Catholic, Protestant, or ‘other’ when applying for schools. The ‘other’ category groups together the remaining pupils from non-Christian and non-religious backgrounds, failing to recognise and capture data about the rich diversity of students within Northern Ireland’s schools.

In her letter, Yara commented: ‘My school taught me a lot about equality and respecting difference. I believe that it’s not right to be othered’.

Northern Ireland Humanists has recently released a comprehensive guide to help parents navigate religion in Northern Ireland schools. The guide covers topics such as school ethos and admissions, religious education, collective worship, relationships and sexuality education, and the teaching of creationism and so-called ‘intelligent design’ in science.

Northern Ireland Humanists calls on educational authorities and policymakers to revisit and revise schools’ admissions criteria, ensuring a more inclusive and equal educational environment for all students.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘We wholeheartedly support the concerns raised by Yara in calling out this outdated and divisive practice. No child should be made to feel like an ‘other’.

‘This approach not only alienates a large portion of our diverse community, but also hinders our progress towards a more inclusive and equal society. We will work tirelessly to make sure all children feel and are included when applying to school.’


Read Yara’s letter published by the North West Migrants Forum on Facebook.

Read about our first ever guide to navigate religion in Northern Ireland Schools.

Read our news article about recent laws to improve education in Northern Ireland.

For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 07918 975795.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefiting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.