Membership Spotlight highlights the work of our member organisations and outline how other individuals and NGOs can support them. Below we shine the light on Children’s Parliament.
Dignity in School Action
Dignity in School is an exciting 3-year programme facilitated by Children’s Parliament with funding from the Gordon Cook Foundation. Now in its second year, Dignity in School works with two clusters of primary schools, one in Clackmannanshire and the other in Dundee. The Dignity in School programme supports them in understanding the experiential approach of children’s human rights. Ahead of the upcoming Incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots Law, this programme supports primary schools to become the hub of human rights-based practice we know they can be.
In today’s Membership Spotlight, we wanted to share with you some statements from a myth busting activity we do with each school when we begin their Dignity in School journey. As we go through each of the “Agree/Disagree” statements in turn, please think about how you might react to these statements. We’ve found them to be great conversation starters when thinking about children’s rights in action. (We’d love to hear your thoughts!)
- I am concerned that taking a children’s rights-based approach will undermine discipline and my authority.
This is a concern we hear quite often wherever we talk about a rights-based approach: “but doesn’t that mean children get to do whatever they want?”
Children’s human rights not only encourage an understanding of how rights apply to the individual, but a rights-based approach also considers where the boundaries are too. It’s not about children always getting their way, in the way that as adults we can’t always get our own way; it’s about ensuring that children are being treated with dignity when decisions are being made that affect their lives, and that they’re being included in those conversations. The idea of human dignity helps us frame lots of learning about how rights are shared. When we talk about dignity at Children’s Parliament, we explain that dignity means that everyone is important and special. Respect for human dignity means that we should be friendly and kind to others and it is wrong to hurt other people or make them feel bad about themselves.
No matter how others treat you, they never have the right to take away your human dignity.
When you learn what human dignity means to you, you are less likely to accept when other people hurt, discriminate or put someone down. Teaching and demonstrating dignity has been proven to increase empathy in children, and it is one of the most wonderful, powerful experiences we get to witness as part of the delivery of this programme. It often feels like a true “light bulb” moment. In lots of ways, the UNCRC is a community document; by upholding children’s rights, we’re creating a community space where everyone’s voices are equally heard and have value in any negotiation or decision making.
2. There is a value in developing children’s participation in school in relation to learning, relationships and school policy.
For the most part, most adults in the school setting agree with this statement. To build on this positive note we promote understanding that when children have agency, when their opinions are heard and respected across the school community, particularly around ways we can improve their school experience, ultimately makes a better school. The children are far more engaged and excited. When they have ownership, it means that they’re less likely to have a negative experience when going to their school setting. We often see that this does improve their levels of attainment, but what we’re most interested in is that it helps children to feel happier, and to have better health and wellbeing because they feel part of the process. When the whole school environment becomes more representative, this is a real representation of what children actually require in the real world. The skills they develop through decision making, through improved confidence, through a greater sense of who they are and what they can influence prepares them to not just grow up as democratically informed citizens in the future – but to be informed and influential citizens at the age they are now.
3. Children should always be taught about their responsibilities when they learn about their rights.
This is probably one of the statements that we spend the most time delving into. This is how we support colleagues and parents/carers understand our thinking.
We all have human rights. Our rights belong to all of us regardless of who we are or even our capacity to understand our rights.
Sometimes adults say to children “To have your rights you have to understand your responsibilities.”
This is a problem because it means adults are assuming they have the power to accord a right to a child or not, that children’s human rights are in the gift of the adult to give or take away. This is not the case.
There is a particular problem with saying to children that rights come with responsibilities. Imagine you are 8 years old, and you are told that you have the right to be safe from harm. But someone at home is harming you. If you think rights come with responsibilities, do you feel responsible? Have you done something wrong, so you don’t deserve your right to be safe?
The linking of ‘rights and responsibilities’ was something that was done many years ago in the UNICEF Rights Respecting School award. But it is not done now, and UNICEF asks educators not to do this. All the organisations that educate about children’s human rights want adults to understand that every child has all the rights accorded to them and that adults cannot take these rights away. Our human rights are our entitlements.
At Children’s Parliament, when we know children have a good grasp of their human rights, we do also talk together about our social responsibilities towards each other. We do this because we want children to learn about the core idea of human dignity, and that for us all to experience our rights day to day it is best if we are all kind, have empathy and build trust with others.
In this short film clip children explain that rights belong to everyone and they are universal, inalienable, indivisible and shared. Open this hyperlink here to view video.
For more information about our work on Dignity in School, and to find resources to support a whole-school rights-based approach in your setting, please visit the Dignity in School Hub. It is an exciting work in progress and will be further developed as we learn from our practice in our partner schools: https://dignityinschool.childrensparliament.org.uk
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