Teaching children about their rights can reduce exclusions and bullying, according to research for Unicef UK. It can also improve behaviour and teacher-pupil relationships, raise attainment and make for more mature, responsible students.
The study, by researchers at Sussex and Brighton universities, was intended to investigate the impact of Unicef UK's Rights Respecting Schools Award. Although schools in Scotland are among the 1,600 registered for the award in the UK, the report deals with the experience of 31 schools only in England.
"Our students have raised their self-esteem, improved their behaviour, been given a voice and developed mature attitudes to learning through the RRSA," said John Porteous, head at Turton High in Bolton.
"Yes, we attained record exam results this summer, but our achievement is so much more than that."
St Catherine's Primary in Paisley was the first Scottish school to get involved. One result, according to headteacher Eileen Low, is that she has suspended only one pupil in the past six years. Before becoming a rights respecting school, it was one every couple of months.
Carleton Primary in Fife has been running the scheme for five years and was the first school in Scotland to reach level 2. Its pupils now act as assessors for other schools.
Such schools aim to teach pupils to distinguish between wants, needs and rights. Children learn that with rights come responsibilities, and they get involved in drawing up charters on how to act in the classroom and the wider school.
Main findings from the three-year evaluation include:
- pupils more engaged in their learning as a result of an awareness of the rights of pupils and staff;
- few reports of bullying or shouting, with pupils more likely to resolve conflicts themselves;
- decrease in fixed-term exclusions in 13 schools, stabilised in three and five reported none;
- more positive attitudes to diversity and difference;
- increased attainment in nearly two-thirds of schools;
- more pupil participation in school decision-making.
The award scheme was also found to have compensated for the educational disadvantages stemming from child poverty. Three of the four schools with over 50 per cent of children eligible for free school meals increased their attendance, attainment and reduced fixed-term exclusions. Of the 14 schools that had 20 per cent of pupils on free meals, eight improved their attainment, seven improved their attendance and six reduced exclusions.
Unicef now wants more pupils to reap the benefits of being in a rights respecting school. Anita Tiessen, deputy executive director of the organisation in the UK, said: "It is wrong that all children in the UK don't learn about their rights. The evaluation report shows what a profound effect it can have."