NC41: Memorandum submitted by UNICEF

 

FOCUS OF SUBMISSION

The principle and content of the National Curriculum and its fitness-for-purpose

 

1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1.1. A curriculum model, whether consciously or unconsciously, is always based on certain values.

1.2. The criteria used for monitoring children's progress also reflect certain values.

1.3. Whatever the precise curriculum model chosen, UNICEF argues that the values that underpin it should have the overt intention of improving the well-being of children. This should also be reflected in the criteria used for monitoring children's progress.

1.4. UNICEF argues that Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out succinctly what the aims of education should be.

 

1.5. The other articles of the Convention provide the complementary values framework within which any curriculum should sit. These, taken together, address the broad question of child well-being.

 

1.6. Evidence collected through UNICEF's Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA) scheme and Hampshire's Rights Respect Responsibility (RRR) scheme suggests that when the values of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) underpin the ethos and curriculum of a school, they have a significant, positive impact on several important aspects of child well-being and school improvement.

 

2. ABOUT THE PROVIDERS OF THIS SUBMISSION.

2.1. UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, is the only global organisation working specifically for children and their rights as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). UNICEF's mission is to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.

 

3. RATIONALE AND IMPACT

3.1. Currently we do not have a sufficiently child-centred culture, where the real needs of children to be protected and cherished, to develop and to learn how to participate as active citizens are placed centre stage as a cultural norm. This appears to be reflected in the sense of disengagement and separation experienced by many children suggested in several recent reports by respected social and educational researchers.

3.2. UNICEF argues that the values that frame any new national curriculum need to address these concerns.

3.3. When Unicef published a report in February 2007 entitled:

AN OVERVIEW OF CHILD WELL-BEING IN RICH COUNTRIES, it struck a chord with many people. It reinforced the view that all is not well with many young people in the UK. There is a pdf version available at: http://www.unicef.org.uk/publications/pub_detail.asp?pub_id=124

 

3.4. What does UNICEF mean by child well-being?

 

The report cited above, explains as follows:

"When we attempt to measure children's wellbeing what we really seek to know is whether children are adequately clothed and housed and fed and protected, whether their circumstances are such that they are likely to become all that they are capable of becoming, or whether they are disadvantaged in ways that make it difficult or impossible for them to participate fully in the life and opportunities of the world around them. Above all we seek to know whether children feel loved, cherished, special and supported, within the family and community, and whether the family and community are being supported in this task by public policy and resources."

 

The statistics for children and young people in the UK collected together in the report under six different headings or dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviours and risks, and young people's own subjective sense of well-being. lead to the conclusion that in terms of children's well-being the UK compares unfavourably with other countries in Europe.

 

3.5. How can the values for a new national curriculum help?

 

UNICEF would argue that this sets a society-wide challenge requiring children' well-being to occupy a far more central position in policy-making and implementation at every level than it does at present. This was recognised in the cross-party Ditchley Declaration (See Annex 7) which was a response to the UNICEF report.

The Children's Plan is itself, in part, a response to the Ditchley Declaration and makes the links between planning for improving children's overall well-being and the articles of the Convention. 

Underpinning the school curriculum and the criteria used for monitoring children's progress with the values of the CRC is a logical extension of the Children's Plan. These measures would help to realise the central aim of improving children's overall well-being.

 

As Robin Alexander, the head of Cambridge University Education Department's Primary Review argued very recently:

" ......in determining the aims of education we might start not with the kind of vacuous statement which has appeared in successive National Curriculum documents since 1988, but with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).The Government ought to be sympathetic. Every Child Matters claims to be underpinned by the UNCRC and DCSF has mapped the ECM outcomes onto the UNCRC Articles. DCSF also regularly reports on progress towards full implementation of those articles. The UNCRC, as you know, doesn't concern itself only with the vital good childhood pre-requisites of children's rights to care, protection, health and development, but also with education, participation and freedom of expression".

THE PRIMARY REVIEW: EMERGING PERSPECTIVES ON CHILDHOOD

Keynote lecture presented to Childhood, Wellbeing and Primary Education Conference on March 17th 2008 organised by the General Teaching Council for England in conjunction with the Children's Society Good Childhood Inquiry and the Primary Review. http://www.primaryreview.org.uk/Events/Eventshome.html

 

3.6. What values would the UNCRC promote?

 

3.6.1. The articles of the UNCRC are interlocking and should be taken as a whole.

A school ethos and curriculum based on the CRC would, as an example, make provision for children to learn:

 

a. about their own unconditional rights as a child under the UNCRC (Articles 1-4, 42), emphasising the headings of safe and healthy(Articles 32,33,34,35,36)

b. developing to their potential and participating as active global citizens.

 

c. to recognise the universality of these rights and respect the human rights of all other children and adults in the classroom/playground/school/wider community/world

 

d. that personal actions and decisions can have positive or negative consequences for the rights of others and for the environment

 

e. that there are many situations where rights appear to conflict and that there is a human rights framework and language to help resolve these situations

 

f. that through these rights they are empowered to:

participate in the life of the school and to have their opinions listened to (Article 12). This includes getting involved in their own learning (Article 29)

obtain and share information as long as it is not damaging. (Article 13)

think and believe what they want and practise their own religion as long as this is not stopping other people from enjoying their rights. (Parents should give guidance). (Article 14)

meet together and join groups and organisations as long as this does not stop others enjoying their rights (Article 15)

uphold their own rights and empathise with and campaign for the rights of others where they see human rights being abused or denied

 

3.6.2. A CRC-based curriculum would provide:

 

a. Adults and children with shared language and concepts which they can use regularly and consistently in relation to a wide range of moral issues, from behaviour issues in the classroom to global issues of Fair Trade, equal rights and sustainability (Annex 9).

 

b. A positive context within which children learn about the responsibility on adults to ensure these rights are upheld and to learn how to take increasing responsibility themselves to respect each others rights,

 

c. Children and teachers with a common spine to the whole curriculum enabling constant cross-referencing and improving curriculum coherence (Annex 8)

 

d. Teachers with a framework for questioning children which can extend and consolidate children's understanding of human rights and other social and political issues,

 

e. A framework of universally agreed moral benchmarks against which cultural values and practices can be evaluated,

 

f. A clear rationale for school councils: to uphold the rights and responsibilities of children and adults in the school community,

 

g. A unifying values framework for all school improvement initiatives such as SEAL, Healthy Schools Award, Ecoschool Award. International School Award, Community Cohesion. (Annex 6).

 

3.7 What evidence is there of a positive impact of such a values system on children's well-being and the school community?

We base our reasoning on the evidence we have been accumulating. In the UK UNICEF is now working with over 300 schools on its Rights Respecting Schools Award (RRSA) scheme. This scheme helps schools to its ethos and curriculum in the values of the UNCRC. A DCSF grant of 0.5m over three years is enabling UNICEF to further expand the scheme in partnership with five specified local authorities (Durham, Rochdale, Bracknell Forest, Hampshire, Dorset). This is being externally evaluated by Sussex University School of Education, whose first interim report will appear in July 2008.

In the course of our collaboration on the RRSA there has been a consistent message from schools' heads and teachers at Infant, Junior and Secondary level that the attraction of the RRSA is that the values of the UNCRC empower both children and adults to create a strong rights-respecting ethos for the school and the curriculum. This in turn has a positive impact on relationships, attitudes, teaching and learning, pupil participation and school leadership.

 

Some evidence has been complied in Annexes 1 - 5 (attached)

 

3.8. Based on the pattern of evidence to date, the anticipated outcomes of a revised national curriculum based on the values of the UNCRC would include improvements in:

self-esteem, motivation and empowerment of children.

Peer relationships and relationships between adults and children

children's self-regulation of both learning and social behaviours

language and concepts for negotiating, consulting and participating

critical thinking and cognitive risk-taking

children's involvement and responsibility for their own learning

respect for diversity and inclusive behaviour

children's self-perception as active global citizens and engagement in global issues

job satisfaction, creativity and motivation amongst teachers

community cohesion. Using the UNCRC as values of the school and its work allows teachers, other adults and children to point to an authority that is higher than their classroom, the school, their community or their country.  

This also provides for a receptive climate for the current developments of personalisation and a more collaborative educational culture.  Personalisation is clearly part of the process of implementing Article 29 of the Convention.

 

There is now considerable expertise which has developed from the 'bottom up'. There are a significant number of Heads, teachers, children, parents, Governors, politicians (local and national), NGOs, Educational academics and LA advisors/officers at all levels who know how this UNCRC values framework can be implemented effectively within a school and how it can underpin the curriculum. This is a solid base on which to build.

 

4. SUPPORTING EVIDENCE SUBMITTED

Annexes:

1. Rights Respect and Responsibility Report on the Hampshire County Initiative September 2007. Katherine Covell & R. Brian Howe, Children's Rights Centre, Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia, Canada. See also http://www3.hants.gov.uk/reportonrrr.doc

2. Some quotes from children and adults involved in the RRSA. 2006-2008

3. A paper by the Head of a Secondary School on the impact of RRSA on his school, 2008.

4. A paper by an Infant school head on embedding the CRC.

5. Sample of two assessment reports produced following Rights Respecting School Award judgement visit.

6. Draft guidance for linking RRSA assessment with School Self- Evaluation Form (SEF).

7. The Ditchley Declaration.

8. A curriculum planner showing the embedding of the CRC in a primary school

9. Portrait of a rights respecting classroom

Links:

1. The Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UN original version. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm

2. The Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF UK Young People's version. http://www.unicef.org.uk/youthvoice/pdfs/uncrc.pdf

 

5. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION

 

We would like to stress the need for a much clearer articulation of the values underpinning whatever curriculum model is preferred. 

 

5.1 The UNCRC should be adopted as the values framework for any revised national curriculum model. This would improve its 'fitness for purpose' in terms of ethos and outcomes. It would offer a framework which unifies curriculum and ethos around the improvement of child-wellbeing and in pursuit of the aims set out in Article 29.

5.2 The QCA should state, when referring to young people learning about rights and responsibilities that these specifically include those set out in the UNCRC. It should also draw attention to Article 42.

5.3 The QCA should include case studies which illustrate how schools have:

embedded the UNCRC in their ethos and curriculum.

monitored and evaluated the impact themselves, including the role of children, teachers, other adults and parents in the ongoing evaluation

5.4 Any monitoring and external inspection of children's and young people's progress should be holistic and in harmony with the values of the CRC underpinning the curriculum.

5.5 The UNCRC has a much more positive part to play in the realisation of children's overall well-being, including their learning, progress and attainment than is acknowledged at present either by the DCSF or wider government. Therefore the government should take responsibility for establishing a wide-ranging programme of induction and professional development in relation to the UNCRC. This should form one part of a coherent strategy for embracing its responsibilities under Article 42.

The aim of the strategy should be to open up opportunities at all levels of society to improve community cohesion based on the shared set of values for children's well-being embodied in the UNCRC.

5.6 The DCSF should make resources and guidance available to Local Authorities to help schools embed the CRC, based on the RRSA model. The resources should allow for initial induction, professional development and further support which should include all children's services.

 

 

 

 

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