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UNICEF UK’s whole school change initiative the ‘Rights Respecting School Award’, has been informed by the Developing Citizenship project, as Heather Jarvis from UNICEF UK explains.

The Developing Citizenship project has provided a tremendous learning experience about how to bring about change in secondary schools, and one that has been extremely beneficial for the UNICEF UK Education Dept.

For 13 years I taught English in secondary schools in London, teaching the whole range of ability and age. Very early on I was involved in the internal politics of curriculum and whole school change, and the bitter contentiousness raised amongst staff on issues of mixed ability teaching and sensitivity in the curriculum to race and gender. It left me with an abiding memory of how difficult it is to bring about cultural and curriculum change in institutions where staff number over 70 and often do not have much homogeneity. 

Although my experience was 20 years ago, this project has shown me that little has changed in how secondary schools run themselves, or how they make changes. Cross departmental working and internal communication are still one of the main pitfalls of any whole school initiative, and other imperatives, like SATS, external examinations, year 10 work experience etc will always take priority.Sadly, assessment by OFSTED is often a major benchmark for the commitment and speed with which changes are made.

Learning from colleagues

The Developing Citizenship project has provided numerous opportunities to learn from very experienced colleagues, and to use this learning to shape UNICEF UK’s own ‘whole school-change’ project: the Rights Respecting School Award (RRS).

Project management meetings and workshops have provided many opportunities for the initiatives and progress of participating schools’ to be shared and discussed. This learning has then been shared with my own education team members, to encourage them, and prepare them for the challenge of persuading schools to include indepth teaching about children’s rights in their Citizenship or PSHE curricula.

In 2000 the new Citizenship curriculum for secondary schools provided a dictate for teachers to include human rights education in the curriculum. This was welcomed by UNICEF and other agencies like Save the Children and Amnesty, for whom child and human rights are part of our mandate. With many DECs, we had been struggling to raise awareness of the CRC amongst both the general public, and schools, since global adoption of the CRC on November 20, 1989, and UK ratification on Dec 16 1991. We hoped that knowledge of children’s rights, in particular Article 12, which states that young people have the right to be consulted and give their opinion on issues that concern them, would, even if very slowly, inevitably encourage schools to increase pupil participation.

In September 2000 we did not know, and certainly didn’t dare to hope, that increased pupil participation was also on the DfES agenda and would provide a far stronger ‘push’ than human rights’ education providers could have hoped for.

Pupil participation and children’s rights

Following the different ways in which the schools participating in the Developing Citizenship project have experimented with or embraced increased pupil participation, and/or education about children’s rights has been one of the many fascinating, if disappointing, parts of the project. 

While a few schools have embraced rights and integrated meaningful pupil participation into the life of the school, far and beyond school councils, it is also a sad fact that many of them have yet to barely broach the subject of children’s rights. Whether this is from ignorance or fear is not completely clear; schools in the end, making their own decisions of how and where the project influences their curricula and modus operandi.

However, one teacher’s comments were telling, when at a workshop I asked pupils whether they had learnt about children’s rights none said they had. Even taking into consideration the reticence common to this age group I was pretty sure that if it had been discussed in some depth in the school they would be pretty likely to tell me – such is the liberating effect of learning that you have rights.

A teacher sitting in the session told  me afterwards that the pupils from his school in the session certainly did know about the Convention since he had told them about it in assembly only a few days previously as it was the anniversary of the adoption. This comment only confirms my own experience and understanding of how, not just children, but anyone at any age, learns and can respond to the learning. It confirms my resolve that UNICEF UK must continue its mission to try to ensure that rights, and the accompanying responsibilities, are fully covered both in the school curriculum and also become central to the ethos of the school, providing a core of shared values which are so often lacking. 

UNICEF UK started its revitalised CRC education programme in 2000 with the premise that a greater awareness of children’s rights would lead young people to see how children, and human*, rights are a unifying global issue. Fair Trade has proved a popular topic for many of the participating schools. It provides scope for individual pupils to get involved by affecting the choices they make when the family is food shopping, and whole school action over food sold in the school. Yet, it is indicative of a nation-wide lack of awareness of the breadth of human rights issues, in that several of the participating schools have not included child and human rights as a central part. Fair Trade is a global human rights issue if ever there was, with specific relevance to, and impact upon, the children of farmers and agricultural labourers in the Third World. 

UNICEF believes that awareness of the two globally agreed bills of rights will help to reduce zenophobia, racism and intolerance, as has indeed been verified by other research. Therefore, we also wanted pupils and teachers to learn that the CRC is just as relevant in the UK; that it has relevance to relationships within the school, the community and families. Children’s rights is a new body of knowledge for most people, that is why UNICEF UK has put education officers in the field to help schools with it, and to demystify it – to prove that it isn’t all about children and young people demanding more and more freedoms.

Contrarily, as the Hampshire Rights, Respect and Responsibilities project, which is providing inset on the UNCRC for two teachers from every school, is showing, pupils respond very positively to learning about rights and very quickly recognise that to have your own rights respected you have to respect those of others.

The Rights Respecting School Award

The Rights Respecting School award is a natural progression of the awareness building initiative launched by UNICEF UK in 2000. The education team of regionally based education officers was expanded, and their sole mandate is to provide inservice training about the content of the CRC, and means of teaching it in the classroom. Many free resources have been produced to support schools with this. The RRS scheme does not owe its existence to the Developing Citizenship project; establishing children’s rights as a whole school ethos was always in our Education plan, but it has certainly provided a very necessary framework and body of experience to draw upon.

From 2000 – 2003 UNICEF found, more or less as expected, that most teachers did not know what the ‘human rights underpinning society’ actually were, nor where to find the necessary information about them. QCA Guidance documents eventually provided guidelines, ironically much fuller and stronger in the one for primary schools, who do not even have Citizenship as a statutory subject.

Being able to watch how the 16 schools in the DC project, supported by both LEA Advisors and DEC workers, have responded to the initiative for adding the global dimension to their curricula has informed us of how schools may, or may not progress. Schools have very different starting points, and operate in very different cultural and social environments. The importance of highly motivated key staff, and the different directions school activities have taken, are all important to bear in mind – every school is different and individual.

The departure of key staff can change the commitment, and speed with which schools make changes, for better and worse. But the influence of key staff is definitely one of the most important indicators for effectiveness and progress. This is a key aspect of accepting schools for the RRS award.

Sharing and reflecting

The workshops and meetings of the Project Management Group have provided opportunities for sharing and reflecting on this challenge of making whole school change. The DC project has benefitted from a very professional, supportive team, which has worked cooperatively and constructively together. It has provided regular opportunities to discuss what aspects of schools’ activities and structure influence the speed of progress.

For example: through a number of discussions, we had to agree that while most of us view one-off events, for example a Fair Trade day, as tokenistic; particularly if there doesn’t appear to be much else happening at curriculum level; the one-off event may be a necessary part of a school’s development, building its understanding of, and support for, greater emphasis on the global dimension in the curriculum.

If staff themselves feel a benefit in terms of the enthusiasm with which pupils respond, they may then be motivated to take further action. However, teacher fear of teaching about the unknown is a factor, and lack of time to sufficiently research and prepare, must always be kept in mind. It is also worth noting that while each school was given a package of resources provided from the agencies, general feeling is that they have hardly been used, and a session to introduce them may help teachers quickly recognise what a resource can provide.

Audits, benchmarks and dissemination

School curriculum developers are now completely familiar with the concepts of audits and benchmarks, although our own research (Citizens all? Children’s rights and citizenship education – the final survey of a four-year project) shows that many schools have still not conducted an audit of where in the curriculum aspects of the citizenship programme of study is already being taught.

Similarly to what our research shows, the participating schools also have had difficulty, constrained by time and money, in disseminating learning and knowledge gained from citizenship education inset. This was clearly demonstrated at the residential workshop organised to bring all the main participants together: the project management group, LEA advisory staff and staff from all participating schools.

There was a noticeable absence of senior staff, or staff who were the usual point of contact for the DEC or LEA adviser. Instead, most participating staff members barely knew about the project, and were often hard-put to show how they could disseminate the learning from the workshop, no matter how interesting or motivating they found it. This is a problem anyone working with secondary schools will find. Pressures on senior and middle managers to maintain paper work and implement an endless round of initiatives means that commitment to any one project has to be particularly strongly led by the highest level of senior management.

Similarly, while LEA advisory staff have been wonderful to work with, and crucial partners in the project, this project was only a very small part of their work.

Working for whole school change

Time and money, probably in the long run, time more than money, is the crucial factor in whether or not whole school change takes place. Centrally driven initiatives, like literacy and numeracy, inspected by OFSTED, will always take precedence. Change takes time; it has been fascinating to watch participating schools, which seemed almost dormant for a long period at the beginning, so that there were doubts as to whether they are going anywhere with the project, suddenly give strong indications of the project having an impact. How long lasting changes will be once the project is complete and the support staff no longer so freely available, time alone can tell.

The 16 schools came from very different starting points. Some schools were already on their way when they joined the project, and developments have been almost seamlessly embraced into the curriculum and the school culture. Others were right at the starting block and unprepared for the project. Location also had a major part to play, with multi-cultural inner-city schools having had to address many issues of the global dimension already, while those in rural locations may have heard the arguments for greater breadth in the curriculum but had little stimulus to make them take steps to include it – particularly when the student body may also fail to see the necessity.

Secondary schools are an enormous challenge, and so many factors, internal to the school, like senior staff commitment, and external, like location and school intake, can all make a difference. Primary pupils seem to be universally loved by anyone working with, or visiting schools, but learning undertaken so enthusiastically by these impressionable minds can be ephemeral and quickly wiped out or overwritten on the move to the secondary school and the onset of puberty. Yet, I still believe, and nothing in this project has changed that, that it is at secondary level, when students are so much harder to engage, that real changes in attitudes and behaviour can take root for life. Therefore, it is beholden on us all to try to ensure that secondary schools are giving students the type of education we think they need if they are to wake up to the injustices of the world, and become active, global citizens.

Children’s rights and human rights

The term ‘children and human rights’ is used to differentiate between the two UN bills of rights: the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights implicitly includes children, but many felt that the needs of children, as vulnerable and unable to act for themselves, needed special attention, and hence, eventually, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the mostly widely supported bill of rights ever.

Teaching about rights should explicitly refer to both these bills. UNICEF UK believes that teaching about the Convention, in that it deals with the rights of children and young people, is the obvious place to start, including the Universal Declaration later as young people look at the rights of the adults they will shortly become. 

Many schools teach about ‘human rights’ without necessarily differentiating between the two bills, possibly from ignorance, but the very global status of the Convention and the Declaration are what invest them with importance, and is an important aspect in building empathy and awareness and concern for the situation of others.

This work © Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK and UNICEF (UK), 2007. Part of the Developing Citizenship project.

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