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UNICEF - Teaching children about rights has a profound effect on schools

Teaching children about their rights can reduce exclusions and bullying, improve behaviour and teacher-pupil relationships, raise attainment and make for more mature, responsible students according to new research published today by UNICEF UK.

This evidence is highlighted in a three year qualitative study of UNICEF UK’s Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA), undertaken by researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Brighton.

UNICEF UK’s Rights Respecting School Award recognises achievement in putting children’s rights at the heart of all of a school’s planning, policies, practices and ethos. The aim of the evaluation was to assess the impact of the initiative on the well-being and achievement of children in 31 schools participating in RRSA across English Local Authorities.

At a Rights Respecting School, students’ are taught to distinguish between wants, needs and rights. Children learn that with rights come responsibilities and develop, with teachers, classroom and school charters of how to act within the classroom and school environment. Rights and responsibilities also becomes a central theme to many parts of the curriculum and students are encouraged to participate in how the school is run outside of the classroom. The research shows that this approach has a very positive impact on students’ attitude to learning, their behaviour in lessons and the respect they have for teachers and each other.

“Our students have raised their self-esteem, improved their behaviour, been given a voice and developed mature attitudes to their learning through the RRSA. Yes, we attained record exam results this summer, but our achievement is so much more than that,“ said John Porteous, Head Teacher, Turton High School, Bolton.

Main findings in the evaluation report include:

  • Pupils became more engaged in their learning. 

More positive and respectful pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher relationships, combined with an awareness of responsibilities for each others’ rights, in turn affected a more conducive climate for learning. 

  • Little bullying or shouting was reported.

Where conflicts do arise, pupils are more likely to resolve these themselves.

  • Fixed term exclusions decreased in 13 schools, stabilised in three and five reported no exclusions.
  • Students developed more positive attitudes to diversity and difference.
  • Nearly two thirds of schools raised their attainment.
  • The award scheme could help mitigate the disadvantages associated with child poverty.

Three of the four schools with over 50 per cent of children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) increased their attendance, attainment and reduced fixed-term exclusions. Of the 14 schools that had 20 per cent FSM, eight improved their attainment, seven improved their attendance and six reduced exclusions.

  • Pupils actively participated in decisions in their schools.

The evaluation report highlights the Rights Respecting School Award as good value for money and recommends that UNICEF UK and the Department for Education should discuss how best to publicise the Award scheme to schools and local authorities so as to encourage further take up in the UK. Schools and local authorities can register by visiting www.unicef.org.uk/rrsa.

Anita Tiessen, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK commented “It is wrong that all children in the UK don’t learn about their rights – today’s evaluation report shows what a profound effect it can have not only on children, but teachers, school leaders, governors and parents. We strongly urge the Government and local authorities to put it right by promoting the award scheme to more UK schools so they too can reap the benefits and foster responsible adults of the future.” 

“The RRSA has affected me personally. I used to be really naughty but (learning about rights and responsibilities) makes you realise that if you disrupt lessons you’re taking everyone else’s rights to education away as well as your own,” Year 11 pupil, secondary school.

“By investing in every aspect of our children’s involvement in school life, I’m confident that the majority of our pupils will take their rights-respecting language and behaviour outside the school gates, committed and educated to improving the communities in which they live,” added John Porteous, Head Teacher, Turton High School, Bolton.

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