Schools set out their bill of rights

SCHOOLS in Inverclyde are setting the pace in promoting the human rights agenda, a conference on ethos heard last week.

Speaking at the seventh annual conference of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, Alan Miller, visiting professor of law at Strathclyde University and director of the human rights consultancy McGrigor Donald, praised the education department in Inverclyde for a vision he hoped would be embraced by other authorities.

Professor Miller told the conference that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights had given a "harder edge" to the debate and that the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000 drew on these, establishing a legal basis for children's rights within the education system.

Following a presentation by Professor Miller to senior officials in Inverclyde, the education department set up a "human rights forum", consisting of representatives from all educational establishments, parents, senior pupils from each secondary school and legal representatives. The forum produced a "Charter on Human Rights and Responsibilities" which was then issued to all schools.

Chris Robertson, head of Gourock High, told a conference seminar that the initial effect of the charter was to raise awareness of the relevant legislation.

She said: "The next step is most important. We have to look at all our policies and discuss within the school whether we have a human rights culture."

Neil McLeod, a fifth-year student at the school, told the seminar that the fact that he was there was a step in the right direction.

Professor Miller said that in the short term there will be implications for training and some procedural changes would be required. "That is necessary to change attitudes. In time the profession will know where they, as well as parents and pupils, fit into the new culture. This will raise standards, develop best practice and reduce stress."

Mary Larkin, development officer in Inverclyde, told The TES Scotland that training for heads of establishments would be extended to all staff from August. There will be workshops for parents. "A key factor in the training will be the adoption of a multi-agency approach involving psychological services, social work, police and members of the children's panel, because inter-agency communication is crucial in dealing with human rights issues," she said.

Anne Carnachan, head of educational support with Falkirk and chair of the Ethos Network's advisory committee, said ethos needs to be audited. "The development of a positive and appropriate ethos in a school is arguably more important than developing individual aspects of the curriculum. We must audit the current situation, plan and develop new elements, resource and implement and be prepared to evaluate rigorously, then adapt and change as required."

ETHOS IN ACTION

Among rights initiatives described to the conference:

* Carlogie primary pupils in Angus drew up a code outlining their right to a clean environment and their responsibility to uphold it.

* Glencryan School, North Lanarkshire, has establshed an advocacy group for disabled youngsters.

* St Elizabeth's primary in South Lanarkshire helped shape the school's catering, discipline and playground supervision.

* St Modan's High, Stirling, involves pupils in management decisions.

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