Responsibility for ensuring children can access their rights lies with adults, and we must all step up to this
7 January 2019
My Rights, My Say provides information and support to children to exercise their rights under additional support for learning legislation.
Here My Rights, My Say partners, Cairn Legal, Partners in Advocacy and Enquire respond to Call 12. (Children in Scotland is also a partner in My Rights, My Say.)
In Call 12, Charlene Tait rightly states that Scotland “needs an education system staffed by teachers and support staff who feel confident in their skills to meet pupils’ individual needs.” We believe that in addition, every individual who works in our education system must understand, respect and champion children’s rights, particular those that relate to access to education and support.
Evidence shows that there is very good practice in educating, supporting and encouraging Scottish children, but for some pupils with additional support needs there is also evidence that they are not accessing the support they need to thrive in school. We also know that a significant minority are not accessing education at all. The Not included, not engaged, not involved report, mentioned in Call 12, shows that some autistic children “are facing significant barriers to accessing their right to education and support and that these are not isolated problems but are occurring across the country to children of all ages in both mainstream and special schools.”
The law in Scotland is clear – children have the right to a school education and to receive “adequate and efficient” support to meet their identified needs. This means that every child has the right to attend school and receive support that helps them reach their fullest potential. As Charlene Tait suggests, it’s important our education staff have the right support and training to make this a reality, but it’s also important that staff are provided with information and the time to fully understand children’s rights.
All children have the right to have their views listened to and taken account of. In January 2018, following changes in the law, children aged 12-15 received the same rights as their parents and pupils over 16 to be involved in decisions about the support they receive and to challenge these decisions if they disagree with them. The My Rights, My Say service is tasked with ensuring education staff are aware of these rights and are supporting children to exercise them.
Call 12: Support our pupils and teachers: embed understanding of ASN in initial teacher training and ongoing development
To some, the extension of children’s rights may seem like an unrealistic or unreasonable scenario. However, young people can clearly articulate and demonstrate the difference that understanding their rights and being listened to can have. Research by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland in 2015 titled How pupil participation in school supports achievement and attainment concluded that rights-based experiences and a good education cannot be easily separated; they are intimately connected in the lives of young people. One of Scotland’s Young Ambassadors for Inclusion suggested that “talking and listening are the key to true inclusion because without this everything you [school staff] might be doing could be entirely irrelevant to the pupil. After all, how can you include someone who isn’t involved in the conversation?” A film created by the group was titled Ask us, hear us, include us.
My Rights, My Say provides advocacy support to children to share their views with their school. Children using the service are accessing support to help them have a say about a range of topics: sharing their views about the help they need to return to school after a period of non-attendance; to explaining that they feel not all their teachers understand their needs; to asking for different support to stop bullying. If all professionals have the skills and support in listening to pupils the interventions that are put in place are much likelier to succeed. What’s clear from feedback from children who have been supported by My Rights, My Say is the difference being heard can have on their school experience.
“The teachers were listening. It’s much better now."
"Thanks for all the help. You’ve changed my life for the better."
“My advocacy worker let school know about my needs, the year head met me and told me if there was anything I needed I could talk to him, this relieved stress for me knowing I have other people that can help me when I am stressed. It has opened doors that I wouldn’t have had before.”
Ultimately the responsibility to ensure children can access their rights – including the right to get help to share their views – lies with adults, and we must all step up to this. Local authorities should take a proactive approach to promoting children’s rights, not just amongst education staff but with children themselves and, importantly, their families. Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support needs, can support this work through their guides, factsheets and online information including Reach – their website for children and young people. My Rights, My Say can provide support to local authorities in their work to enhance practice in listening and involving children with additional support needs.
My Rights, My Say has created new animations for children to promote their rights. They have some important messages not just for children, but for adults too. “Rights are like promises to protect you and help you have a good life….Having rights doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you like but they do help make sure you are treated fairly.”