Talking about human rights

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Terence Copley looks at resources for collective worship

Citizens All? Children's Rights and Citizenship Education Unicef, free Under the UN Flag: Assemblies for Citizenship in Secondary Schools Unicef, pound;10

Citizenship is not the young curriculum subject many people involved in it assume. Its presence in UK education dates back to the 1830s, the 1930s and the 1950s.

Citizens All? is the sixth report of the Citizenship Education Monitoring Project. It is the result of a five-year study of how recent citizenship education has unfolded. Data from questionnaires to schools suggests that since the subject became part of the national curriculum at secondary level in 2002, substantial progress has been made. "A quiet revolution in the nation's approach to child rights is taking place".

Findings for the constituent countries of the UK appear. They include that, in primary schools, assemblies are an important means of disseminating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to pupils.

Under the UN Flag collates international events and anniversaries throughout the year with aspects of the UN's work for what are unfortunately called "assemblies".

The collection is useful for teaching and could be adapted for primary, but its real target is the secondary "assembly". Assemblies are seen as a means of bringing people together to share their belonging to a family and to nurture the spirit of the child. This book is far better at the former than the latter and, in common with many assembly collections, finds moral and social themes easier to handle than the spiritual. It wants to "make assemblies the highlight of the school day".

Each piece begins with a quotation from the UNCRC, then a reading, followed by concluding remarks and sometimes a reference to a song from the Unicef songbook Thursday's Child.

In practice, it is best suited to key stage 3. The format is rather stolid, making the child implicitly a passive listener. To encourage participation, it is suggested that children give instant feedback on each assembly (raised hands, folded arms, hands on shoulders, thumbs up or down). They are also encouraged to get into the habit of grading assemblies (one to five), voting for the assembly of the monthtermyear, and using a suggestion box effectively.

But is instant gratification a fair pupil outcome for collective worship? Why not extend it to curriculum subjects? How would the leaders of assemblies feel to be awarded a thumbs down? As a resource for collective worship, Under the UN Flag needs more interactive content and attention to the spiritual dimension.

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