Staff want human rights enshrined in the curriculum

Many teachers think pupils don't understand concept, poll shows

Adi Bloom

Nine out of 10 teachers want human rights education to be put on the national curriculum for students before they start their GCSEs, a TES survey suggests.

The poll of more than 670 teachers, conducted jointly with Amnesty International UK, finds that 47 per cent think the children at their school do not understand the concept of human rights. Similarly, 46 per cent believe their pupils have no awareness of their own human rights.

The findings come as schools prepare to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the landmark document that laid the foundations for democracy and civil liberties in England. Among the three clauses of Magna Carta that still remain on the British statute books is one granting the right to justice and a fair trial.

Alice Edwards, education officer at Amnesty International UK, said pupils had little understanding of what human rights entailed. "I think there are a lot of children who don't understand what they're entitled to and that human rights belong to everybody," she said. "It can almost be read that some people have human rights and some people don't."

The issue should be taught across the curriculum, she added. Maths teachers could look at how wealth was divided across the world, while students could write campaigning letters in literacy lessons, she explained.

"Make it clear that human rights isn't a stand-alone issue," Ms Edwards said. "It actually penetrates everything. It belongs to me, it belongs to you, it belongs to everybody."

Craig McVicar, head of Year 9 at Quintin Kynaston in West London, has run dedicated, off-curriculum days focusing on human rights. "A lot of our students come from all over the world," he said. "They're refugees from war-torn countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Kosovo. That makes it quite real for them. I guess it makes [pupils] feel quite fortunate when they hear what people experience in other places in the world."

Mr McVicar advocates lessons that explore the introduction of formalised human rights, covering Magna Carta and also the formation of the United Nations after the Second World War.

And teachers needn't worry about students misappropriating the information. "Pupils have never said to me, `You're abusing my human rights by making me wear school uniform'," Mr McVicar added. "In actual fact, some of the kids with behaviour problems are motivated by this. They realise a bit more about themselves and what's important in life."

Jessica Barnecutt, who teaches at Oaklands School in East London, said that although students were quick to grasp issues around torture and unfair imprisonment, they did not always understand how rights were central to their own lives.

"Some of our kids [who take on caring responsibilities at home] are very grown up very young," she said. "They have a lot of responsibility. They might not see that as an infringement of their human rights but I would.

"It's like any subject: some students grasp it more quickly than others. Even I find it quite hard to define. It means freedom and being able to express your views, and not being subject to persecution for any reason. But I teach maths. I'm not a words person."

To coincide with the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta,TEShas created a collection of classroom resources, including some made by Amnesty International.

`We exercise our rights at school'

Sadiha Chowdhury is a 13-year-old student at Oaklands School in East London.

"Human rights are the rights that you're given when you're born, rights that everyone should have but unfortunately we don't all have," she says. "For example, there are women in Afghanistan who aren't allowed to work and have a good education - or an education at all, in some cases.

"There's a certain group of people who are saying that women are inferior to men and shouldn't be allowed to have the same rights as men.

"In this country, there are some cases where women aren't allowed to step out of the house, or the female has to be accompanied by the male. There are some people who experience trafficking and are forced to work as slaves.

"We exercise our rights at school. We're able to do the same things as our peers and we get the same opportunities."

Amnesty awards

The Amnesty Youth Awards, for which TES is the official media partner, are open to young people aged 7-19, including students in further education. The awards reward students for human rights work in one or more of five categories: reporter, photographer, songwriter, campaigner and fundraiser.

The deadline for entries is 30 January.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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