Holywell Primary celebrates Unicef UK award with Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan
I’m travelling on a busy train through the lush East Midlands countryside back to my office in London after an uplifting visit with the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, to a school in her constituency. I was up with the lark at 5am so expected to be thoroughly exhausted, but there’s something remarkably energising about spending a few hours with bright, thoughtful school children – so I find myself wide awake and inspired to write a few thoughts about the experience.
Holywell Primary School in Loughborough is one of a staggering 3,700 schools across the United Kingdom that have enrolled on the Rights Respecting Schools programme, run by Unicef UK as part of our groundbreaking work to secure lasting positive change for children in this country. But today was a particularly special day for Holywell, as they have become one of only 250 schools to achieve Level 2 status – a testament to how well they have embedded children’s rights across the whole school. The culmination of several years of work, the award is important recognition for the school’s children, who are its most powerful advocates.
As a relatively new Director at Unicef UK this was my first visit to a rights respecting school, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. After an incredibly warm welcome the children were keen to share with me and with the Secretary of State what rights respecting status means to them.
Noah, a disarmingly articulate boy of just 10 explained that understanding children’s rights means “knowing that we are all equal and being inclusive of everyone”, reflecting that seeing children left out or unheard is a rare occurrence now at Holywell Primary. His views were echoed by Nathaniel, who after an impressive piano recital, led me proudly around his school, enthusing about the Class Charters that set out the rights, and promises they have made to respect other people’s rights, that the children themselves most value, uphold and promote. And touring the classrooms it was clear that the programme is tremendously well liked by the children, who appear confidently self-assured, respectful and extremely engaged.
But at Holywell, being a Level 2 school means more than just appreciating rights in school; it’s also about developing global citizenship and respect for the rights of children in other parts of the world. As passionate Headteacher Christine Linnitt explained, the school considers itself to be truly international in both ethos and practice, and the rights respecting agenda is a useful tool for creating a sense of shared ethos and mutual respect among pupils from a diverse range of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. On a brief tour of the school, children enthusiastically pointed out displays and resources on the importance of the right to a good quality education and shared their learning about the experience of other children around the world who may not have the chance to go to school. “It makes you sad that not everyone gets their rights” said Esther, 11, demonstrating clear empathy with girls and boys less fortunate than herself and showing how much she had learned to value her own educational opportunities.
I know that the Secretary of State was as impressed as I was with Holywell’s clear dedication to children’s rights and the palpable sense of pride the pupils feel about being active members of a Level 2 school. I came away feeling thoroughly proud of them myself, and as convinced as ever that Unicef UK’s work with schools here in the UK is hugely valuable. It was definitely worth getting up at 5am for. Now, where’s that coffee?