What difference is made for children by Mandale Mill being a Rights Respecting School?
Katie: I think probably the main thing we get most feedback on is the way that children can now articulate their thoughts and opinions. We had children who could not articulate their thoughts or beliefs about what was right or wrong and Rights Respecting Schools gave us that initial toolkit and that common language to be able to discuss quite complex issues – that is the biggest difference.
It was recognised in our Ofsted inspection in 2020 that our children showed an awareness of what equality and fairness means. For example, we have had children explaining how regulation walks are typical for some of their classmates, because it’s what they need to learn effectively, but they don’t need to go on them because it isn’t what they ‘need’ – and how that isn’t unfair, but it’s actually fair, as we provide what each individual child needs. Then the child comparing that to someone who needs glasses to see or a coloured overlay to read: having seven-year-old children having that conversation with you is so powerful.
During the Gold assessment, children were challenged and asked, “What do you mean that fair does not mean the same?” Children could confidently justify their responses, which is a huge shift from the children who could not articulate themselves very well at all at the beginning of our journey. It shows that our children are aware of themselves and the people around them.
I felt overwhelmed about the idea of doing campaigns as part of the Gold work, but the children had the idea, during a steering group session, of working with the local foodbank as some of them had used that service before. We looked at a book called ‘No Money Day’ and when you can observe children under 11 years of age being able to generate ideas about how to make the world a better place – that is an amazing thing.
What has been your proudest achievement in putting children’s rights into practice at Mandale Mill?
Katie: Achieving the Gold standard is amazing and I will always remember the feeling when we received the email to say we were officially a Gold school. We are the first school in Thornaby to have Gold and we display our banner with pride!
The main thing for me though is having children who are genuinely happy and want to be in school because of the work that has done. That’s priceless.
What advice would you give to other schools working towards Gold?
Katie: It was great that we got to use Rugby League World Cup funding – budgets are tight, we all know that. It’s available for schools in the North East of England and Yorkshire, so make the most of it.
Rights Respecting Schools is a big journey and a big undertaking. Perseverance is needed; you cannot expect it to be done quickly. When we sent off our Gold evidence, it was clear to us just how much we had done in those three years between Silver and Gold. You do not realise when you are in the midst of it, so the accreditation visit is good because it makes you reflect on those tiny successes.
Life moves so fast, but Rights Respecting Schools makes you pause and take stock of what you have achieved for your children. I always encourage people to do RRSA. Funnily enough, I never felt like that prior to starting on the journey, as I assumed it would be ‘another job to tick off’ but it absolutely isn’t – and the benefits for the school, community and children are incredible.