We wish to thank the many principals, teachers, parents and students for commenting on earlier drafts of this checklist.
Everyone who is involved in education has rights.
This Charter of Education Rights aims to support students, parents, teachers, principals and other stakeholders to build a shared understanding of, and together advance, these rights.
Working together to realise these rights can serve to:
- Build better education systems and schools
- Improve educational outcomes for everyone.
School community members are encouraged to read the Charter and to discuss it within their community. Schools may also want to have a Charter contact person.
Based on the ideas and experiences of many educators, parents, students, principals and school community members, the education rights are grouped into four key areas:
- Participation and accountability
- Quality, equality and inclusion
- Joined-up systems and services
- New resources and facilities.
Each of the rights is discussed in what follows.
1. Participation and accountability
The first area includes the following:
- Human rights education
- Privacy and confidentiality
Parents, teachers, students and community members have a right to be included in major decisions and choices about education.
This includes all levels of decision-making.
Governments should have regular mechanisms for dialogue that enable citizens and stakeholder organisations to contribute to the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of education.
This requires a better mix of centralised and local participatory decision-making, implementation and monitoring.
At the local level, participtaion includes awareness of opportunities to be involved in a school council/board or parent group and promotion of meeting times.
Governing bodies should be open and accessible to their communities, including their decisions via school community access to meeting minutes.
Parents, teachers, students and other members must also have the support, training and information necessary to fulfill these roles.
Parents, teachers and students should be actively involved in the development of all policies. They should be informed about which policies are to be reviewed each year, the process to be undertaken, how they can be involved and any agreed changes at the end of the review process.
Students are entitled to express their views on all matters of concern to them and to have these given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity. This includes the development of educational policy.
Human rights education
Human rights education is in itself a fundamental human right. The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exhorts "every individual and every organ of society" to "strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms".
Human rights education includes learning the skills of advocacy - to speak and act every day in the name of human rights. It also provides a basis for conflict resolution and consensus building.
Education for human rights empowers people - including students - through skills to take appropriate action.
All school community members have a right to seek and receive, as well as to impart, information and ideas.
There should be access, subject only to narrowly defined exceptions, to information held by schools.
Everyone can contribute to communication by being open and honest. This includes the right to ask questions if more information is needed.
The ability to voice differences of opinion, respectfully and with understanding, indicates that the school community is working well together.
Communication with parents is most effective when it is two-way. This means encouraging parents to contact the school and giving them opportunities to get involved. This also includes the right to use interpreters if English is not one’s first language.
Communication includes teachers communicating and consulting with parents in a timely, understandable and sensitive manner. It may include working toward (and providing support for) staff responding as soon as possible to parents when they contact the school – even if it is to say that the issue will be resolved later.
Everyone has a right to comment on issues as well as have concerns or complaints dealt with properly and promptly.
A school should also manage any concerns and complaints received from parents:
- Promptly or within timelines agreed with the person in accordance with due process, principles of natural justice and an education department’s regulatory framework.
Privacy and confidentiality
Everyone participating in the education system or a school needs to respect the privacy of other people in the system or school.
Everyone has a right to expect that their personal or other information will be collected, used, disclosed and strored in accordance with the relevant laws about privacy, and that this information will remain confidential unless the law allows disclosure or the individuals direct otherwise.
Students have a right to privacy in sensitive matters such as health or family issues. Confidential matters should only be revealed when appropriate. That is:
- If the student has consented to the information being used in a certain way
- To prevent or lessen a serious threat to life, health, safety or welfare of a person (including the student)
- As part of an investigation into unlawful activity
- If the disclosure is required or mandated by law
- To prevent a crime or enforce the law
- If it is relevant to the educational needs of the child.
This right means refraining from discussing students' personal problems in situations where the information will not be treated confidentially.
2. Quality, equality and inclusion
The second area includes the following:
- Equality and non-discrimination
- An inclusive curriculum
- Teaching and teachers
- Indicators of progress.
Students have a right to access high-quality schooling and learning regardless of their gender, culture, language, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, geographic location or disability.
Equality and non-discrimination
All participants in education systems and schools have a right not to be discriminated against in any way.
Students have a right to a system of education in which socio-economic background and similar factors cease to be a significant determinant of educational outcomes.
Governments must also support all young Australians to achieve not only equality of opportunity but also more equitable outcomes.
An inclusive curriculum
Principals and teachers are wary of differentiating the curriculum for under-achieving students if this serves to segregate students.
They know that streaming and second choice options are socially unjust and offer no long-term solution to underachievement.
Human rights frameworks refer to the development of an inclusive curriculum. Such a curriculum should neither exclude nor discriminate.
A socially just, inclusive curriculum seamlessly combines academic knowledge, concepts, theories and principles with applied learning and real world problem solving.
The curriculum is then opened up to a wider range of students who may otherwise be streamed into narrowly academic and applied learning and technical pathways.
Teaching and teachers
For the teachers to fulfil their responsibility for high-quality learning, several factors need to be considered:
- Teachers are themselves rights-holders
- There must be recognition of, and respect for, their professional status and autonomy
- Teachers must be supported and empowered to be innovative in teaching and learning practices
- Appropriate education and professional development of teachers must be ensured. (It is obviously not sufficient to introduce frequent ‘changes’ or ‘innovations’ unless there is the corresponding training to go with it).
School community members have a right to a safe, secure and supportive learning environment.
This is characterised by caring, respect for democratic values, broadly understood rights and responsibilities and clear, consistent expectations for behaviour and consequences for misconduct which are communicated to students, staff and parents.
It includes access to, and links with, health services, policies and codes of conduct that enhance the health of teachers and learners.
It also includes education content and practices leading to knowledge, attitudes, values and life skills needed for self-esteem, good health and personal safety.
All school community members have a right to be respected for their culture, beliefs, values and characteristics like age and gender.
Teachers are entitled to be treated politely and with consideration of their workload.
The unique relationship that a parent or teacher has with a student might at times lead to differences of opinion as to what is best for the student.
Both need to appreciate and respect the special knowledge, skills and insights that each brings to their relationships with a student.
Teachers demonstrate respect by:
- Acting with care and compassion
- Treating students fairly and impartially
- Holding colleagues in high regard
- Acknowledging parents as partners in the education of their children.
Indicators of progress
Governments should develop well-defined targets for reducing disparities and monitoring progress toward their achievement.
To ensure the visibility of all groups of students in relation to enrolment, attendance, completion, attainment in education and other factors pertinent to equity, data should be disaggregated by sex, disability, race, ethnic or social origin, economic status, religion, language, geographic location and other status.
Overly generic data can obviously disguise hidden pockets of inequality and render discrimination and exclusion invisible.
Disaggregated data can provide information to guide policy and practice in relation to a rights-based approach to education.
Rights-holders are yet to have routine access to sufficiently disaggregated data on patterns of enrolment, attendance, completion and attainment of children in the education system.
Governments that are truly committed to tackling inequity recognise the fundamental importance of statistics and the need for credible and independent institutions to produce them.
Attention to collecting disaggregated data at the grass-roots level, both to identify areas of greatest inequity and to provide data for local-level planning, management and evaluation, is essential.
3. Joined-up systems and services
A more joined-up approach to educational improvement is a fundamental right. This has been variously called ‘holistic’, ‘systemic’ and ‘transformational’.
Taking a joined up approach to change is how real progress in reducing the achievement gap and improving outcomes for all can be made and sustained.
This includes strong partnerships between schools, colleges and universities as well as between early childhood care and education and primary and secondary schooling.
As UNESCO suggested long ago:
“The terms ‘primary schooling’ and ‘secondary schooling’ are coming more and more to be considered as no longer referring to different entities, but rather to successive phases of a continuing process that cannot be sharply distinguished except arbitrarily and by doing violence to the real continuity of growth and education. In so far as school systems and scholastic methods do break the continuity of growth they are coming to be regarded as imperfect instruments of education” (1961).
In a holistic approach, the various parts of education and schooling are related in such a way that education is not fragmented.
For school communities, this means the right to have addressed the question of ‘What kind of education system do we want?’
4. New resources and facilities
It is a fundamental right to work and learn in an adequately resourced education system.
Many governments do not give education sufficient priority in their national budgets.
Too many do not use resources for education effectively and efficiently and may subsidise better-off social groups at the expense of others.
Not less than 6 per cent of a country’s GNP should be devoted to education, as recommended by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century.
It is important to ensure that the allocation of public resources for education serves to reduce inequities in access and quality rather than to reinforce them, particularly through the use of positive discrimination measures.
Human rights law affirms that education cannot be ultimately universalised unless it is free.
Governments should have a clear strategy, plan and time frame for enabling universal access to post-compulsory education.
Teachers also have the fundamental right to be adequately remunerated and have access to the best available training and professional development and support.