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On pupils' right to be consulted

Local authorities have a legal responsibility to consult pupils when considering school closures or other major decisions about education, which is why my office has just published new guidance on the topic, commissioned from Children in Scotland.

The guidance has been created in response to the recently enacted Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which specifically requires pupils to be consulted.

This is a core principle of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have the right to be heard. For a long time, decisions about closures were made without hearing from those most affected - the pupils - but this Act has the potential to change that.

While feelings about school closures are often highly charged, proper consultation at least allows a balanced assessment of views and consideration of alternatives. It makes sense to include children and young people within a process that so clearly affects them.

Our guidance demonstrates that there are ways to draw pertinent responses from even the youngest children in a way that will be relevant to local authorities faced with making these decisions.

There is little point in undertaking consultations unless they are carried out thoroughly and properly seek the views of those taking part. Different school populations, different needs of pupils and school locations should all tailor the consultation process.

We want to make it clear that there are many ways to engage with young people of all ages and abilities to ensure a fair and meaningful process. It is also important to remember to provide feedback that demonstrates how their views were taken into account before a decision is made.

One of the cornerstones of Curriculum for Excellence is that our young people should become "responsible citizens". What better way to achieve that than to consult them?

www.sccyp.org.uk; www.childreninscotland.org.uk

Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Edinburgh.

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