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United Kingdom

Bringing children’s rights to life in UK schools

© UNICEF UK/2008/ Irby
Children at a Rights-Respecting nursery in London.

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain.

By Mary Whittaker

LONDON, United Kingdom, 20 August 2009 – Every child has the right to an education which should develop his or her personality and talents to the full. Every child has the right to have his or her voice heard. These are just two of the 42 articles which make up the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF UK is pioneering an initiative called the Rights Respecting School Award, to encourage schools to place the CRC at the heart of its ethos and curriculum.
The award programme started in 2004 and is running in more than 800 primary and secondary schools in the UK.

Safak, a pupil at at Millfields Community Primary School in Hackney, east London, says that his favourite article in the CRC is the right to clean water, saying: “We can’t live without water, but we’re not supposed to waste it for no reason.”

A model school 

“The RRSA has international credibility and suited our community of children and parents who come from diverse cultures and backgrounds,” says coordinator of the RRSA at Millfield's, Roz Wilson.

© UNICEF UK/2008/ Irby
School Council members at Millfields Community Primary School in east London stand in front of a display on children's rights.

At Millfields, the curriculum links rights to many other subjects – issues such as trade and international boundaries, for example, can be discussed when learning about perimeter in numeracy lessons. Pupils learn about other countries in the context of childrens right and have made films about which can be seen online.

The 604 children on the school’s roll speak over 40 languages between them. Over 74 per cent of pupils speak English as a second or third language and around 20 per cent of the school’s intake are refugees or asylum seekers.

Rights, respect and responsibility

Millfield's also drew up Class Charters which matched each right with a responsibility and a reminder to respect the rights of others.

“The new three Rs – Rights, Respect and Responsibility – seemed to go down well with all the adults,” comments Ms. Wilson. “Previously they had only a vague understanding of what children’s rights actually are and confused them with wants.”

A 'values wrapper'

A Rights-Respecting school doesn’t just teach children to name their rights, it gets them to relate the articles to their own lives and experiences. Children also come to understand that, along with their rights, are implied responsibilities.

“The way you engage children in recognising their responsibilities is not to present them as negative, but as part of the empowerment that comes from having their rights respected,” says UNICEF UK’s Head of Education Edward Waller.

Rights Respecting Schools compliment other Government-sponsored initiatives such as Eco Schools and Healthy Schools. UNICEF’s Mr. Waller notes that the RRSA acts as a ‘values wrapper,’ bringing all these different initiatives together.

What’s more, as a values framework for the school, the CRC is generally accepted by parents, teachers and pupils because it is universal and not based on any particular religion or culture.



CRC @ 20

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