Advice from a Gold: Rights Respecting Headteacher

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Jenny McGarry is the headteacher of St Mary’s CoE Primary School in Moss Side, Manchester. Here she shares her experiences for other schools starting out on their Rights Respecting journey.

“You have to get your staff and your governing body on board. Don’t do anything without that. The work to win hearts and minds needs to go in at the beginning and everyone must be clear about the direction for RRSA. Do that work, take your time, work together.

“Make sure you have the right people on board and make sure you are committed. It can’t be that RRSA is an ‘add on’, it needs to be authentic and you need to really listen to children and take on board what they are saying even when its uncomfortable. You must be prepared to hear things about your school that you don’t want to.

“I remember children telling me the food at lunchtime was not the best quality  and I thought ‘How do I deal with this on top of other priorities! I’ve had children tell me Mrs so-and-so said this and it’s not rights respecting and what are you going to do about it?

“If you encourage children’s voice, children won’t always tell you things you want to hear!

“Getting parents on board is really important too. In our area parents’ have often emigrated from countries where maybe they haven’t  experienced democracy in the way we understand it . So, there can be challenges and opportunities to empower children’s and parents’ voices through  communicating a rights respecting approach.

“We address this by meeting regularly with parents. They know the children’s charter inside out, they know how we teach and facilitate their children in school. We get them to think clearly about their children and about their own lives. We hold lots of workshops, we have a parent’s charter, and parents have worked hard to priorities the things they want to work with children on. Parents sign up to charter, so if things go wrong we can then go back and say ‘let’s make sure we are linked back to what we agreed upon.’

“RRSA has to be up there with other school improvement priorities, it’s a central piece of work – it’s not just a curriculum or a PSHE thing.

“It has to be part and parcel of how we live day-to-day, a rights respecting language and approach is embedded minute-by-minute in our school. Our curriculum is rights respecting, our maths and literacy scheme is based on pupils having control and contributing to their own learning. The RRSA ties into safeguarding and provision – we’ve not had any exclusions in 11 years – which we are really proud of in light of some of the challenges our children face.”

Find out more about Rights Respecting Schools at St Mary’s C.E Primary:

A journey of rapid improvement at Saltley Academy, Birmingham

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School Improvement Through Child Rights at The Howard School

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Promoting inclusion through child rights education at George Heriot's School

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Nurturing relationships, underpinned by rights at Wandsworth Hospital School

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