Pupils demand civil rights;News;News and opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
ONLY ONE IN three children believes their teachers would keep a secret, and only a quarter think they take their opinions seriously, according to new research.

Many of the 2,272 students aged seven to 17 surveyed were angered by the way teachers dismissed and mistrusted their views. They also resented the power teachers had to dish out detentions or other punishments without explanation.

But children did understand that teachers might have to break a confidence where someone is being hurt.

Forty per cent of the respondents said that children needed more rights at school, but only 11 per cent of teachers agreed with them.

One pupil said: "I think that children need to be treated like adults more ... everyone still has opinions, whether they are 10 or 40. Everyone still has rights to say what they believe."

The report, Civil Rights in Schools, by Priscilla Alderson and Sean Arnold, of the University of London's Institute of Education, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child.

They concluded children as young as eight could tell a democratic school council from a token one. Half the schools surveyed had councils, but only 20 per cent of students thought they were effective.

Dr Alderson said: "Students made the point repeatedly in the research that they want more opportunities to express their own views, to contribute positively and to debate among themselves."

Pupils said teachers avoided practical sessions on children's civil rights and instead stressed "dull rules about democracy and remote ideas about justice and peace".

One eight-year-old said: "It's so boring when they keep telling you that making the world a better place means picking up litter and not killing whales."

When asked what they wanted from schools, 85 per cent said good teaching to help pass exams, 82 per cent said to be with friends and 80 per cent to get a good career.

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