Rights Respecting; GOLD

As many of you will be aware, since 2018 we have been on a journey to embed the rights of children (as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child or UNCRC) into the very fabric of Hill West, so that children’s rights are respected and upheld by every member of our school community. We have been working with UNICEF UK to ensure that our school is a safe and inspiring place to learn, where children are respected, their talents are nurtured and they are able to thrive. Our Rights Respecting Schools approach embeds these values in daily school life and gives children the best chance to lead happy, healthy lives and to be responsible, active citizens.

Rights Respecting Schools take a Child Rights based approach towards all that they do. At Hill West, the whole school community is taught, and learns, about rights through training, the school curriculum, assemblies, class charters and displays around school, and through focus on different rights from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, across the school year. By modelling rights-respecting language and attitudes, and by making strategic decisions that involve students, we teach and learn through rights. By being ambassadors for the rights of others, all members of the school community develop as rights respecting citizens. Over the past four years, we have focused on these areas:

Strand A: Teaching and learning ABOUT rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is made known to children, young people and adults who use this shared understanding to work for improved child well-being, school improvement, global justice and sustainable living.

Strand B: Teaching and learning THROUGH rights – ethos and relationships

Actions and decisions affecting children are rooted, reviewed and resolved through rights. Children, young people and adults collaborate to develop and maintain a school community based on equality, dignity, respect, non-discrimination and participation; this includes learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of both educators and learners and promotes well-being.

Strand C: Teaching and learning FOR rights – participation, empowerment and action

Children are empowered to enjoy and exercise their rights and to promote the rights of others locally and globally. Duty bearers are accountable for ensuring that children experience their rights.

Children’s Rights are enshrined in international law – the UNCRC is not a charter that countries, governments or their representatives can ignore – it is part of negotiating what will work well for children in every country across the world. The charter identifies children as ‘Rights holders’ and governments (and their employees) as ‘duty bearers’ upon whom the duty to uphold the rights of children is incumbent. The nature of children’s rights are: inherent; inalienable; indivisible; universal and unconditional.

The convention has four general principles (Articles 2, 3, 6 and 12), underneath or within which all other articles sit. Our children understand that their rights do not end when they reach adulthood, but that their rights are enshrined within the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which form the basis of international humanitarian law. These laws protect persons who are not, or who are no longer, involved in hostilities.

Since receiving our Silver Award in June 2019, we have continued to embed the rights of the child in all that we do at Hill West, so that school policies and procedures embody the rights of the child, and these underpin all decisions made within our school. Through the Rights Respecting School (RRS) Steering Group, weekly ‘Tea with Me’ meetings and ACE Champion meetings, pupil voice is heard and taken into account as we continue to develop as a school. Despite two national school closures (due to the global COVID-19 pandemic), we have continued to work hard to ensure that the children at Hill West are aware of their rights, along with developing the children’s awareness of wider issues including the rights of children on a global basis, a greater understanding of the social and emotional aspects of learning and the importance of community cohesion and sustainable development.

There were many examples of how our children uphold the Rights of children presented to the UNICEF Gold Award committee. As part of our development of a wider awareness of how the rights of children are upheld, or not, globally, we enrolled in Unicef’s 2019 – 2020 and 2020 -2021‘Outright’ campaign, which focused on how climate change has a detrimental impact on children around the world receiving their rights. As part of this work, children in Year 5 wrote to the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Boris Johnson, MP, to let him know what their views were and demand that he take action to reduce climate change and the impact it has on the lives of children globally.

In their letters, the children described which rights children may not be able to access as a result of climate change, including if children are living in a country where there is drought, this will cause a lack of access to water (Article 24) and a subsequent impact on children’s health so that they may not be able to go to school, impacting on their Right to an Education (Article 28), but also applies to children who are impacted by flooding and have to leave their homes (Article 27) – they were shocked to think that this can happen to children in our own country, as well as to children living overseas.

The children also asked Boris Johnson, as the representative of our government, to uphold it’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. They asked him to take positive action to support childrens rights, both here in the United Kingdom, and around the world. They felt strongly that these are, “Our Rights, Our Responsibility” and wanted to make their voices heard! The members of the Steering Group were thrilled to receive a letter from our member of Parliament (Andrew Mitchell MP, to say that he had Imageforwarded their letters to Boris Johnson, for his attention. When we received a letter from Boris Johnson to say that he had received and read their letters asking him to uphold his duty as a duty bearer and take action against climate change, thereby upholding the rights of children, they were absolutely delighted to realise that their voices had been heard and taken seriously.

The children in Badgers class (Year 5) were also able to speak to our MP, Andrew Mitchell, and ask him questions about his views on climate change, when he visited school in July 2021 to talk to them about the letters they had sent to him, and his work on climate change and the rights of children around the world.

The Steering Group considered how we as a school community could reduce both our personal and our school’s carbon footprint. They have advocated turning off lights, interactive whiteboards and classroom lights; reducing the tap flow when running water; collecting rubbish and walking to school, as they understand that if every one of us takes some action, the small acts will add up.

We could also tell the UNICEF committee abour children who wrote a cookery book during lockdown for children, to raise £450 to support children in hospital with their ‘Cooking to make you smile in lockdown’ cookbook, as well as explain how the RRS Steering Group planned and delivered assemblies to inform the school community about their work and the OutRight Climate Change campaign, both in person (in non-COVID restriction times) and virtually (during times of restriction). 

We were absolutely delighted that in July 2021, Hill West Primary School was awarded the prestigious UNICEF UK Gold Award,from UNICEF UK’s Rights Respecting School programme. UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights. The Rights Respecting Schools Award is granted to schools that show commitment to promoting and realising children’s rights and encouraging adults, children and young people to respect the rights of others in school, the community and across the world. Gold is the highest accolade given by UNICEF UK and shows a deep and thorough commitment to children’s rights at all levels of school life. There are only just over 500 schools across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales who curently hold the Gold award, and it is a truly fantastic achievement for the children, staff and community at Hill West to receive the award, especially given the challenges that COVID has presented over the past two years.

On 7th October 2021, we shared the news of our fantastic achievement with our school community and gave every pupil in school a balloon, which they brought home with them at the end of school. During school assembly, the children talked about the rights of children that were of most importance to them, clearly articulating why, and then recorded the UNCRC Right that was of greatest importance to them on their balloon, to mark the achievement and their contribution to the RRS Gold Award journey!

At Hill West, we are incredibly proud that our school has been awarded the Gold Award by UNICEF UK. For our school community it is a public acknowledgement of how seriously the rights of children are taken by everyone who works and learns within our school, including both children, parents and teachers. Participation in the Rights Respecting Schools Award over the last three years has had an incredibly positive impact on pupils and the school as a whole. By putting children’s rights at the heart of our school, we have embedded their rights within everything that we do and we would like to thank all of our fantastic pupils as they embody the values of the UNCRC and uphold the rights of all in everything that they do every day. We would also like to thank the Hill West staff for their dedication and hard work in ensuring that teaching about Rights, for Rights and through Rights has been effectively embedded across the school curriculum.  In addition, thanks must also go to our community, including Governors and School Leaders, who have ensured that the Rights of children (as embodied by the UNCRC) underpins the policies and practices that take place at Hill West every single day!”

UNICEF say that the RRS Gold Award recognises a school’s achievement in putting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at the heart of a school’s planning, policies and practice.  A Rights Respecting School is a community where children’s rights are learned, taught, practised, respected, protected and promoted.