Thursday, 11 August 2011

Children's Rights and Responsibilites - a practical approach

Kim Beat, Braintcroft headteacher, and pupils
In the wake of the recent disturbances there has been a lot of discussion about responsibilities - of children, parents, schools and the wider society. The concept of 'rights and responsibilities' is not new in Brent schools and something that is very much part of the ethos of many.  Schools have often drawn up agreements in consultation with children and their parents on everyone's rights and responsibilities.

Braintcroft Primary School in Neasden has gone further in embedding these issues into the way the school is run and in April of this year were awarded UNICEF's Rights Respecting Schools Award Level 1  The award is based on the implementation of the values of the UN  Children's Rights Charter.  The school was visited by assessors who talked with parents, children and staff  and watched the school in action.

Here are some of the assessors' comments:
All the staff and children interviewed by the assessors had excellent knowledge of rights and confirmed that in addition to lessons they learnt about rights through charity work, their allotment and healthy schools. Parents were informed through a booklet on rights and a stall at the Winter Fair. Children took a petition to 10 Downing Street as part of the 1 Goal Campaign which had a big impact on the whole school appreciation of global issues. Teaching and learning takes place in rights respecting classrooms. The children confirmed that they are being encouraged to take learning into their own hands; that they felt empowered to ask for help and to contribute to the planning process. They also confirmed that since Rights Respecting was introduced to the school there is greater engagement with learning as “before everyone just got distracted”.
All classrooms had a negotiated charter and the assessors noted high levels of good practice. The charters emphasised respect as well as rights and responsibilities and the children valued this move away from rules. Teachers used the charters to encourage children to reflect on their behaviour and put things right. Staff and students are modelling the language and behaviour of Rights Respecting in the classrooms. The whole school charter was developed with wide consultation and parents were able to vote with the children to prioritise the rights to be included.
Braintcroft School Council interview Sarah Teather
Braintcroft has a well established student council which has already interviewed Sarah Teather; their MP. The children valued the opportunities offered for voice and understood that; “school council takes your point of view to another level, you know that if you tell the school council it is going to be done”, The children believe that their voice has contributed to practical change in school – like new chairs and playground equipment. It has made school safer for some children and made school more welcoming for new children; “At Braintcroft everyone is welcome”.  The assessors noticed that school council minutes had become increasingly more positive as the school year had gone on. The children we met were confident and they knew that their teachers were helping them to make informed decisions. There is an active newspaper club which produces a school magazine clearly aimed at the general interests of the readers. Children took part in Day for Climate Change and were filmed by UNICEF. Students exchanged places with the teachers and took their responsibilities very seriously. They undertook a learning walk and reported their findings with perception and sensitivity.
Through participation and empowerment of pupils and parents this approach encourage values that go well beyond those of celebrity and consumerism. Of course it cannot cure inequalities in society but it can nurture the skills and commitment that will allow children to challenge such inequalities in a positive and informed way.

Declaration of Interest: I am a governor at Braintcroft Primary School

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