Last month, a group of twenty Belgium trainee teachers and teacher trainers visited 15 schools across London over three days to see what a child rights education, as delivered through the Rights Respecting Schools Award, looks like in practice.
Staff from UNICEF Belgium and UNICEF UK are showing trainees teachers the difference children’s rights makes to young people in Britain so they will be inspired to use knowledge of rights within their teaching once they qualify.
One group visited Burntwood School in Wandsworth, South London. Burntwood is a girls school with over 1700 students and 120 staff, both teaching and non-teaching. The school began its Rights Respecting journey in 2007, achieved Silver in 2009 and went on to reach Gold in 2016.
Katelyn Farrenson, the school’s Rights Respecting Coordinator, and Assistant Principal, explained, “It took us a while to get from Silver to Gold because it took time to embed the Award fully into our policies and practice. We visited other schools to look at what they were doing to help consider how we wanted to develop. We found some practices useful while others prescriptive, an article with every lesson for example, less so. There is no point in trying to put an article into every lesson when it’s not relevant. Here we work in rights in a way that is meaningful for students.”
Deputy Principal, Cath Brookes, said at the time of signing up the senior leadership team was looking for something that would be a framework for developing an already inclusive ethos with an awareness both of self and society, in line with their stated aim of creating the “women of tomorrow”.
“A strength of the Burntwood has always been working with the local community and our work with charities,’ she explained to the Belgium trainees. The Rights Respecting Schools Award has allowed us to thread that through more of our work, and as we have progressed along our Rights Respecting journey, the CRC has really become the foundation of who we are as a school and has strengthened teaching here.
“The other day I did a lesson on slave children in the Middle Ages and brought the rights they were denied into that. Rights gives relevance to topics that are difficult to teach. I would find it odd to do a lesson on, say, the holocaust and give the impression that this thing happened and then it ended and went away. Incorporating rights into that lesson gives that period of history context and relevance today. Good quality learning is not necessarily ‘to test’ learning, and bringing rights into the classroom is about linking things together and making learning both meaningful and impactful.”
Anneleen Van Kelecom, Education Officer at UNICEF Belgium is leading the project to bring children’s rights and the Belgium education system closer together. She said: “Visiting the schools in London allowed teachers and students to see and feel the added value of a child rights approach when children participate in school life. This motivates participants even more to integrate this into their own life as a teacher in Belgium.”