Newsletter Four

Newsletter 19, Summer 2002

The theme of the seventh National Conference of the Ethos Network was 'Children's Rights and Responsibilities'. The Conference continued the Network's sharing of information on pupil participation and aimed to highlight what the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child means for all members of school communities and to encourage the sharing of strategies aimed at developing children's rights and responsibilities. The Ethos Network Team consists of Director, Professor Pamela Munn; Manager, Christine MacLean; Liaison Officer, Gina Reddie; Clerical Assistant, Elise Shaw; Case Studies Editor, Alison Closs; Information Officer, Gordon Jackson. Conference photographs by Douglas Robertson, Photographer, Edinburgh.

Conference Photograph Conference Report Conference Photograph

Rights and Responsibilities
The UK Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Click to visit the website! in December 1991 and reports regularly to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on progress towards full implementation of the Convention's principles. One of the guiding principles of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 is that each child has the right to express his or her views. Included in the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates most of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, is right to education. The Children's Right and Responsibilities ConferenceStandards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000 Click to visit the website! established a legal basis for children's rights within the education system, drawing on the language of the Convention and placing the child at the heart of the process.

Children's Right and Responsibilities ConferenceNow there is a statutory direction on the purpose of education focusing on the whole child and a statutory significance attached to the views of the child. All public bodies, including education authorities and schools, are responsible for implementing the UNCRC. How these obligations can be met and how children and young people in schools can be made aware of their rights and responsibilities within a 'community of respect' are issues for all professionals in education today.

Professor Alan Miller

'Education - the Development of a Human Rights Culture'
Conference Keynote Address, Professor Alan Miller

Professor Miller has been involved in work with Inverclyde Education Authority Click to visit the website!. Inverclyde carried out an audit of compliance with the Human Rights Act and with the European Convention on Human Rights with a view to sharing best practice and developing a Charter for the Authority's educational establishments (more on Inverclyde's work later).

Drawing on this work, Professor Miller presented school ethos as a framework on which can be balanced the rights and responsibilities of pupils, parents and teachers. This ethos encourages respect for other people's rights and values and prepares children for a responsible life in modern society. His conference keynote addressed what a human rights culture is, how it can be developed in schools and the obligations on schools to comply with the legal framework now enshrined in the Children's Act, the Human Rights Act and the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act. Children's Right and Responsibilities ConferenceThe 'bite' is that schools must comply or they can be taken to court.

A human rights culture can be seen to be based on five 'Ps': participation, protection, prevention, provision and personality. A child must be able to participate in decision making as effectively as possible and this includes decisions on special educational needs, exclusion and access to school records. Much less is now left to chance, with the need to establish an audit trail showing how decisions were made about a child and why - a child will have the capacity to challenge a local authority. A child has protection Children's Right and Responsibilities Conferenceagainst discrimination in religion, sexual orientation, gender and race; and against abuse, exploitation in child labour or being embroiled in criminal activity. So what does this mean for teachers? It means that they have to take care to ensure that their actions cannot be construed as discriminating and if they suspect a child is being neglected or abused at home they are obliged to take action.

Prevention against harm means that schools have to take all reasonable steps to protect a child from bullying and also have a duty to protect in relation to health and morals, impacting on sex education programmes, for example. Had Section 28 not been repealed, there would have been a human rights challenge - the curriculum must take account of a pluralist society. Provision of assistance for basic needs requires a right to education, for children with special needs, for those who have been bullied and seeing exclusion as a last resort. Failure to take all reasonable steps to protect a child from bullying for example, which Children's Right and Responsibilities Conferenceleads to a child's right to education being denied, may lead to a possible challenge. Provision also extends to nutritional needs - healthy food must be on the menu. In general, this shift is a move to a situation where a child can appeal against decisions. A human rights culture, underpinned by legislation also includes the right of the child to develop his or her personality to the full with freedom of thought, belief and expression. The local authority has to create the conditions or ethos where the 'right to be' is paramount.

So what action can local authorities and schools take? Staff training is very important and extending this training to all staff an imperative. School human rights charters can be developed. Examples of good practice, which demonstrate pupil, parent and teacher partnership, can already be found in areas such as Inverclyde. Schools should consider starting from the point of developing a best practice guide or manual taking human rights practice and working towards embedding it in school practice and procedures.

Click to view the next page!