More than two years on from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rights Respecting Schools are still feeling the impact. Despite seeing progress, in June and July 2022 schools had ongoing concerns for pupils around education gaps, social and emotional development and mental health and wider wellbeing.
This report summarises the key results from qualitative research with a diverse range of Rights Respecting Schools in June and July 2022. The interviews were analysed alongside the wider context of perspectives from The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) RRSA staff working across the UK, and a review of emerging external evidence.
Inequalities in impact remain a concern, particularly for younger ages, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and vulnerable groups.
There was a mix of experiences reported by school leadership respondents in the 2022 summer term, and the Covid-19 situation continued to change during our research. Positivity sat alongside uncertainty, concern, and fatigue.
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on children’s rights in Rights Respecting School communities. Lived experiences of lockdowns including the actions of school staff as duty bearers and the way schools have applied rights across their ways of responding have helped strengthen and clarify views of child rights as real, important and valuable. This greater understanding of child rights and RRSA has been a key enabler in some schools’ progress through the Award due to increased passion and engagement from staff and pupils.
RRSA provided a vehicle to help schools navigate the different challenges and situations that arose during the pandemic from school closures to the return to school. Wellbeing has been at the forefront of school activities over this time. Whilst the way in which RRSA has been delivered varied according to individual school contexts, RRSA provided schools with a tool to apply child rights to the way in which they addressed the impacts of the pandemic on pupils and support recovery across the school community.
We identified four, interrelated roles RRSA played:
- A framework to link up, prioritise and give meaning to the different activities for children across the school in response to the pandemic.
- A language to discuss difficult topics, to explain and frame their support and articulate their ethos.
- A mechanism for pupil voice for schools to listen to and collaborate with pupils in rebuilding school life.
- A basis for positive relationships at a time when relationships were challenged.
Child rights, through RRSA, have been a tool for schools as they responded to the different stages of the pandemic and the harmful impacts on children’s wellbeing and personal development. As schools faced changes and challenges, RRSA provided a useful framework and language and a basis for strengthening pupil voice and positive relationships.
Looking to the future, whilst the harm of the pandemic remains clear, child rights can play an important role in how schools and their pupils recover and move forward together.
For this report we spoke to 8 primary schools and 1 secondary school. Our findings reflect a similar picture to the emerging external evidence on educational impacts for primary school pupils (for 2021). More research is needed for secondary schools.