This section was last updated on 18 June 2010. We also invite you to provide your feedback about this latest draft.
Every student has the right to an education which develops his or her personality and talents to the full.
Every student has the right to have his or her voice heard and to participate in decision making.
As well, schools play a vital role in fostering respect, participation, equality, safety, pro-social behaviour and non-discrimination.
A key challenge that schools may face is to develop and promote a clear set of broadly agreed and meaningful values - not just rules - that has been developed via the participation of staff, students, parents and the school community and is actively upheld by all.
Schools have rich insights into how best to develop shared values and rights which have a practical impact on school relationships.
A rights-based school can provide a shared values framework which, in turn, may help to build a stronger school community.
A rights-based school
What, then, is a rights-based school (RBS)? Based on what schools already do, a RBS may seek to more systematically:
- Teach about students’ rights (and human rights more broadly) as well as the rights of all school and community members - including the rights of teachers and parents
- Model rights and respect in all relationships in all settings - at school and in the home and the community
- Reinforce the understanding that along with rights there are responsibilities as well as clear consequences for actions.
Four key areas
Simply as suggestions to stimulate dialogue in a school community as well as discussion pointers for teachers and students about rights and a RBS strategy, rights can comprise four key areas:
- Participation, communication and accountability
- Quality, equality, respect, safety and inclusion
- Strong school-family-community partnerships
- The very best resources and school facilities.
A broad community approach
Becoming a RBS is a staff and whole-school community effort. Teachers, students and parents co-develop their own kind of human rights framework and apply it to all everyday situations.
The strategy is likely to be successful if supported by a team representing the various stakeholders in the school community, including teachers, students, parents and non-teaching staff.
Leadership, school council and broader school community (e.g., parent) buy-in is essential. This means building agreement at all levels that the school is working to become a RBS.
As well, links with human rights organisations and educational resources inform and support the practical strategies of schools. See our useful list of rights contacts on this website.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of a rights-based school cover five key areas:
- Promoting opportunities for all young people to become: (a) successful learners, (b) confident and creative individuals and (c) active and informed citizens (as per the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians)
- Addressing inequality and discrimination
- Building stronger school-family-community partnerships
- Promoting positive relationships and pro-social behaviour
- Improving learning outcomes for all.
Support for this approach includes the work of MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed. In their book, The Intelligent School (2004), they write:
“We would place pupils’ rights and responsibilities at the heart of an effective school.”
The UK Rights Respecting Schools
As an example of a RBS, the UK Rights Respecting Schools award scheme started in 2004. It is running in more than 800 primary and secondary schools.
Schools have reported a decrease in bullying, an improvement in achievement and participation, a positive effect on attitudes and global awareness and a more inclusive, caring school atmosphere.
The findings from research conducted by the University of Sussex indicated that every school surveyed reported improved behaviour.
Part of the development is an increased use of a rights-respecting language. This has been described as ”a negotiating language rather than a demanding to do it language”.
As well, when children and young people at a Rights Respecting School learn about the universality of rights, they also learn about the importance of a global view of this. Schools observe the impact of a child rights’ perspective on global citizenship.
It is reported that by 10 years of age, most children in a Rights Respecting Primary School can:
- Give examples of how their own actions have consequences - positive and negative - for the rights of others
- Refer to the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Give examples of rights abuses from local to global contexts
- Use the UNCRC as a framework for making judgements about issues concerning justice and sustainability
- Understand that their own rights are linked with personal responsibilities
- Critically evaluate the actions of others, including governments, through reference to human rights.
What can schools do?
Based on what many educators and schools already do with values and rights, there are several possible stages in promoting a rights-based school. These may obviously include:
- Where are we? Looking at the current situation of relationships and rights and responsibilities in the school
- What do we want to achieve and how? Developing and implementing a highly-focused plan
- What else do we need to do? Assessing what has been achieved and what else may need to be done.
A school community may want to develop its own Charter of Education Rights and appoint an education and school rights contact person. As well, a summary of a school's rights and values is often included on posters in classrooms.