Praise for Wales' record on children's rights

17th June 2011 at 01:00
But critics say the approach risks undermining teachers' authority

The children's commissioner for Wales has praised schools for the work they are doing to put children's rights at the top of the educational agenda, despite criticism that it puts too much power in the hands of pupils.

Keith Towler said he is pleased that a growing number of schools are using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to improve pupil well-being and classroom standards.

Earlier this year, Wales became the first country in the UK to incorporate the UNCRC into law, meaning that all ministers must consider the convention when drawing up policy.

Many schools are allowing pupils to devise a set of values, which then underpin all the work they do in class. But critics say the approach risks undermining teachers' authority.

Speaking to TES Cymru, Mr Towler said: "What we are seeing across education in Wales is an underlining of how the UNCRC can be taken forward in schools.

"It helps create a positive learning environment and raises children's awareness about their rights in their everyday lives. If education is about hooking children into learning for life, they must have their views heard by those around them."

Several schools have won awards for using the convention to become "rights-respecting schools", and earlier this year Hafod Primary in Swansea became the first in Wales to receive a Unicef level 2 award.

Briery Hill Primary in Ebbw Vale is in the early stages of using the UNCRC to become a "rights- respecting school". When Estyn's 2009 inspection found "important shortcomings" in standards, the school was put in special measures.

After coming out of special measures last October, staff were determined to raise their pupils' aspirations by using the UNCRC.

Acting deputy head Lynne Wright said: "We felt that by empowering the children, giving them an improved sense of self-esteem and helping them to understand what's right for them and others, we could help enhance their confidence and improve their aspirations."

The pupils came up with 10 rights they felt embodied their school and local community, and every month, starting next month, their work will focus on an individual right.

But Rex Phillips, Wales organiser of the NASUWT teaching union, said the rights-respecting agenda must not lead to schools' authority being undermined. "We don't want to develop a classroom culture of pupils saying, `I know my rights, you can't do this to me', because that would be a retrograde step," he said.

Educational consultant Terry Mackie, a former head of school improvement for Newport City Council, said very few schools get the concept right.

"This is an important area but one of the most difficult things to make sensible use of in the curriculum," he said. "There are some very bad examples in practice because it's such a difficult, abstract concept for schools to grasp."

UNCRC: KEY FACTS

- The UNCRC was drawn up in 1989 and adopted by the UK government in 1991.

- It contains 54 articles giving children under 18 their own rights.

- Wales became the first country in the UK to make the UNCRC law earlier this year.

- Unicef UK encourages schools to put the convention at the heart of their planning, policies, practice and ethos.

- The Rights Respecting Schools Award is given to schools who do this successfully.

Original headline: Children's commissioner praises progress on pupils' rights

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