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Call 6: Rights, wellbeing and love of learning must be at the heart of education if Scotland is truly to be the 'best place to grow up'

By Elaine Kerridge

Child rights and wellbeing must be at the heart of education in Scotland and our approach to how children learn. Curriculum for Excellence recognises that wellbeing is fundamental to learning. Combined with delivering Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC), embedding wellbeing in all policies and practice linked to Scottish education must be prioritised.

Children in Scotland’s direct work with children and young people means we hear and amplify the voices, experiences and opinions of children and young people living in Scotland.

This includes their experience of education, especially formal education in a school setting. We know that children and young people understand that experiencing positive health and wellbeing leads to more successful education and learning outcomes. One of the key messages that emerged from our Leaders of Learning project (2013-16) was that personal and emotional events impact significantly on children and young people’s ability to learn and achieve: children and young people emphasised the negative effect of stressful personal circumstances on their ability to concentrate and make progress.

However, positive relationships are key to success: relationships with teachers, or adults who have a teaching role, are central in the learning journeys of all children and young people. Young people taking part in the project voiced a desire for relationships that are based on mutual respect and allow them to engage with adults in an  equal and honest manner. The message was clearly to learn within an ethos of ‘learning together.’

Through our recent project with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, supporting the refresh of the Professional Standards for Teaching, we again heard that children and young people are clear that they want schools to take a child rights and relationship-based approach in everything they do. School settings need to be supportive and nurturing environments where positive, respectful, reciprocal relationships are developed between all, mutually agreed ‘rules’ are consistently applied, and individual needs are understood and supported.

We know that, as a whole, Scotland’s education system (formal and informal) is delivering improved outcomes at school and long after young people have left it. But there are still too many children not receiving the education they are entitled to because their additional support needs are not being met. This has to be addressed as a matter of urgency. In the words of one young person, “Use equity to achieve equality.”

Scottish education can succeed in improving every child’s life, but only if we recognise that education does not happen in isolation. As the African proverb reminds us, it takes a village to raise a child – working with parents and partners is essential to a successful and positive experience for children and young people in education.

There are key areas where a difference in approach is necessary:

Policymaking based on evidence

Decision-making in education needs to be depoliticised. There are too many short-term goals based around parliamentary cycles. This has knock-on effects on funding and approaches to curriculum design and content.

We need long-term and sustained connections and consensus on the purpose of education and how Scotland achieves an excellent education and learning system. This must be agreed across political parties and successive governments at national and local levels.

We need a genuinely child-centred, evidence-driven, outcome-focused approach to education policy and practice, accentuating how children and young people learn and how we secure their wellbeing to help them succeed. Recent examples such as the introduction of standardised testing in P1 – a policy Upstart’s Sue Palmer has said means “schools teach to the test, the curriculum narrows and children, teachers and parents grow increasingly anxious about educational performance” – suggest we are still far from this.

We need to act on the evidence we have with the full support of national and local politicians over the long term. Evidence telling us about the fundamental importance of a play and outdoors-based curriculum for young children; how parental engagement supports learning; assessment based on developmental and learning milestones, especially in the early years; and supporting each individual to understand how they develop and improve.

We need training and empowerment of the workforce in early years settings, schools and colleges so that teachers can develop their practice to deliver the very best learning outcomes for all children and young people.

The workforce should be able to contribute to a continuous learning journey for each child and young person, with transitions becoming a positive indication of a child’s progress rather than a disruptive break in their learning.

Participation shaped by entitlements and a two-way relationship

This is the Year of Young People, an opportunity to celebrate the contribution young people make to society. It is also a chance to ingrain policies, processes and practices that ensure young people have a stronger voice and a greater say in decisions that affect their lives.

Education is one of the key environments where this change can take root. Decision-making at local, regional and national levels of education must develop and embed policies, processes and practices to support children and young people’s participation.

This is to ensure children and young people’s entitlements are realised through their lived experience (as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including Article 12).

This participation must be of high quality and an ongoing process – a two-way relationship – and must include all aspects of education, such as how and what children learn, their individual support needs and wider education governance issues. As Article 12 of the UNCRC states, every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.

Resourcing that strengthens schools and communities

Austerity measures have had a damaging impact on education budgets. This must change for children and young people to gain the individualised support they need and to flourish in their education.

In particular:

Education staff require more time and support to augment their knowledge and skills around the needs of children and the theory and practice of implementing a child rights-based approach

Pupil Support Assistant numbers must increase to support the varied and complex needs of our children and young people

Access to related professionals such as Educational Psychologists, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service practitioners, and speech and language therapists must be enhanced

Parental and community engagement should be adequately budgeted for to enable all schools to develop inclusive, supportive whole school communities, within and outside of school terms.

When we (the village) support children and young people’s wellbeing through a relationship-based and child rights approach, our young people will thrive, achieve their academic potential and enjoy sustained, positive life outcomes.

Follow #25Calls to see which organisations have endorsed this call.

Article 29 – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: '... the education of the child shall be directed to a) the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential and b) the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter...'

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United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 29: "the education of the child shall be directed to... the development of respect for human rights..."

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