From the UK to Belgium:
Spreading the message of child rights education
Alison Padgett, head teacher of Peel Park Primary School, a Gold Rights Respecting school in Accrington took the message of children’s rights to support a project being developed by Unicef Belgium in Brussels. She talks to us about her experience and about the impact that the RRSA has made on her school.
When I was contacted by Professional Advisor Martin Russell to see if I would be interested in speaking about our school’s RRSA experience at a conference in Brussels, to launch of Unicef Belgium’s Teacher Training Pilot, I jumped at the chance. Having been in the teaching profession for 30 years, the RRSA has been the most powerful initiative I have been involved with.
When we first began our work on the Award in 2011 the relationships between children and adults were okay but not based on mutual respect. Now we see children being supportive and respectful to each other more frequently now; at break times we have a playground buddies system and in the classroom group work is easier. The RRSA has brought us so much closer to those global citizens of the future that we refer to in our school vision.
At Peel Park we don’t have rules, we have expectations. When issues arise we discuss and use a restorative approach to resolve. Our attitude to behaviour is based on rights; we explain why behaviour is inappropriate and the consequence of that. A new starter in year 4 commented that Peel Park is so different to his last school saying, “Here you don’t get shouted at. You are spoken to about why your behaviour was wrong.”
RRSA has influenced children in the classroom, developed relationships within our school community and helped pupils to see that they can get their message heard beyond the school gates. Raising awareness about rights and joining in with campaigns such as Day for Change, The World’s Largest Lesson and Outreach has empowered the students, encouraging them to work for a brighter future for everyone.
By traveling to Belgium I hoped Martin and I could spread the RRSA message further. Working together, children and staff put together a presentation which aimed to reflect our passion about children’s rights and the positive impact teaching about rights can have in a school.
As the date of the trip closer, I admit to feelings of self-doubt. I am happy to speak to my 615 children in assemblies but the thought of 250 colleagues filled me with dread. However, I can’t talk to my children about taking risks and not fearing failure if I wasn’t prepared to do the same myself. So, full of nervous excitement, I met Martin at Manchester Airport and we set off for Brussels.
On the Thursday afternoon, we met with staff from the different departments in Unicef Belgium and explained how the RRSA was implemented in schools. It was an intense afternoon with some very searching questions but everything we said was received with real positivity and enthusiasm. One question that was asked was why did Peel Park introduce the Award in the first place? Was there a trigger? A behaviour issue perhaps?
The answer was no. For Peel Park we wanted children to be active learners rather than passive, with the teacher delivering a lesson and the children learning it or not. Research has shown that children need to be active in their learning in order to achieve their best, and that is where RRSA lessons come into their own, children enjoy being part of the process rather than the outcome.
On the Friday we set off for the college where 250 trainee teachers and their lecturers were waiting to hear what we had to say. Despite one or two technical hitches, we managed to deliver our message with the help of two amazing young translators. Martin speaks with such knowledge and authority about children’s rights and I felt equally passionate sharing the positive impact the RRSA has had at Peel Park.
The afternoon session was a workshop where we could share our views and experiences with a much smaller group. Many of the trainee teachers seemed to embrace the concept of teaching children about their rights, as did their lecturers. Let’s hope the project is a success and as the new teachers start their career, schools across Belgium will become rights respecting.
In the UK it would be amazing if learning about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was a fully incorporated part of the national curriculum. Rights education has to be a top down approach to work properly, it has to be part of the ethos within your school. It’s also Article 42 – government must actively work to make sure children and adults know about the Convection. Curriculum incorporation would be a huge step towards this. Integration would be a big step towards realisation of this article.
At the end of the two days, I felt privileged that Peel Park had been a part of such an exciting project. I couldn’t wait to get back to school to tell the children how their message has been heard in another country and how their experiences could influence the lives of Belgian school children in the future.