Should pupils have more rights?;Yes;Summer debate

6th August 1999 at 01:00
A former headteacher and a union leader clash over what young people should expect as their due in school

"MISS, she won't listen to us; she tries to put us down all the time."

"Miss, he can't control us, so what's the point? You can't learn anything from him, so we just mess about and have a laugh."

"Miss, why should we respect him when he can't be bothered to show us respect?"

"Miss, why do the teachers push in front of us in the dinner queue? They never even say 'excuse me'."

Pupils have an inalienable right to learn. They have a right to be challenged and to have demands made of them because of their right to learn. They have a right to be treated as persons - not as objects on whom those who have problems with their own authority seek to impose authoritarian behaviour.

Pupils have a right to be treated with respect as people and not as lower orders of being.

I have often reflected on the late 20th-century use of the word "kids". It seems to demonstrate that both the adult world and that of the child and adolescent need a depersonalising word to describe the young and those approaching adulthood.

Adults have never really known how to relate to the young. For centuries, the children of the rich were presented as small-sized adults. The children of the poor worked as quasi-adults. Even now, in 1999, some children are still abused, spoilt, exploited by adults.

Pupils have a right to be challenged to respect the rights of other students to learn. They have a right not to be patronised or to be insulted; to be listened to with respect and to be treated with


Equally, they have a right to be challenged to behave courteously and respectfully of other students' and adults' rights. They have a right to be taken seriously.

They have a right not to be spoken to with cynicism and to be treated fairly, without discrimination or favouritism - nor should they be ridiculed for their appearance, their name or their personal or family circumstances. They have a right not to be bullied or harassed or victimised.

Pupils have a right to classes which begin on time and to their learning being treated as if it was at the top of their teachers' priority list. They have a right to have their work effectively assessed within an agreed time frame. Pupils have a right to know the forward plans and objectives for their learning.

Rights and responsibilities are the two faces of the same coin. Pupils have a right to be given developmental responsibilities appropriate to their age and stage and which gradually enable them to make just, reasoned and informed choices.

They have a right to be enabled eventually to take up confidently the role of adult citizen, and to

be guided and assisted in coming to informed personal decisions and choices about their future study, training and employment in adult life.

The pupils' rights to proper access to appropriate learning opportunities is central to the task of schools.

All teachers, including the head, must be worthy of their hire. I have been incensed by the lack of consideration for the rights of pupils in the formal disciplinary procedures for teachers. It should no longer be so complex to remove those who consistently deprive the young of their right to learn. Where the teachers' unions take a casuistic approach in these matters, they earn little professional respect.

A class of eight-year-olds once wrote: "Every child has the right

not to have to fight

to expect people to be kind

not to be made fun of

not to be made sad

not to be scared of the teachers

to have friends

not to be scared to come to school

to be safe."

Anita Higham OBE recently retired as principal of Banbury School in Oxfordshire.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today