Memorandum from Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) (CS 39)

 

About CRAE

 

1. The Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) seeks the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in England. Our vision is of a society where the human rights of all children are recognised and realised.

 

2. CRAE protects the human rights of children by lobbying government and others who hold power, by bringing or supporting test cases and by using national, regional and international human rights mechanisms. We provide free legal information and advice, raise awareness of children's human rights, and undertake research about children's access to their rights. We mobilise others, including children and young people, to take action to promote and protect children's human rights. Each year we publish a review of the state of children's rights in England.

 

Introduction

 

3. This submission from CRAE[i] highlights significant opportunities and threats to the realisation of children's rights in the provisions of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, focusing on the following areas:

 

Educational guarantees for children and parents

Home-school agreements for each child

Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE)

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE)

Information sharing for Local Safeguarding Children Boards

Media reporting of family proceedings

 

Educational guarantees for children and parents (clauses 1-3)

 

4. CRAE welcomes the introduction of educational guarantees for children and their parents and hopes that the Government will ensure that sufficient funds are in place to make these guarantees a reality. In particular we welcome the 'pupil ambition' that all children will go to a school where they are taught in a way that meets their needs and have the opportunity to express their views. We will be seeking clarification from the Government that the duty on the Secretary of State to consult before issuing or revising a pupil or parent guarantee (clause 2(2)) includes a duty to consult children. Every child's right to education is reflected in Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and in General Comment No. 1 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.[ii] We hope that these and other key human rights provisions will be reflected in the pupil and parent guarantees.

 

Home-school agreements for each child (clauses 4-5)

 

5. Clause 4 includes a duty on the head teacher of a school to ensure that each parent of a registered child is provided with a home-school agreement and a parental declaration. Since these agreements will include obligations on the child, and children of sufficient understanding will be able to sign the parental declaration themselves, it is crucial that children are involved in the drafting and review of their own home-school agreements.

 

6. Clause 5 links parental responsibilities under the home-school agreement to parenting contracts and orders under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. CRAE does not believe that it is appropriate or helpful to criminalise people for non-criminal activity. Measures to improve school behaviour through family engagement must focus on genuine support for families and respect for children's human rights in both policy and practice.

 

Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) (clauses 10-12)

 

7. CRAE supports the statutory introduction of "Understanding of physical development, health and well-being" in the primary curriculum and "Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education" in the secondary curriculum. Article 29 of the UNCRC details a minimum requirement for education to be broad and holistic, developing both the academic but also social development of children. Statutory PSHE is a significant step towards meeting this requirement.

 

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) (clauses 13-14)

 

8. CRAE has been a long-standing advocate for statutory and comprehensive sex and relationships education (SRE) and supports the introduction of a reformed statutory basis for SRE in this Bill (clause 13). Article 24 of the UNCRC gives every child the right to have access to health education whilst Article 17 guarantees to every child access to information, particularly that aimed at promoting well-being and physical and mental health. In 2002 the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that health education should form part of the school curriculum and specifically stated this should include sex education.[iii]

 

9. Clause 14 amends exemptions from SRE. Currently a parent may withdraw any child up to the age of 19 from sex and relationships education. There is little accurate information on the number of children affected by this withdrawal. A small study in 2002 by Ofsted estimated this to be 4 in every 10,000 school pupils; or approx 3,000 children in England.[iv] The Government is proposing to lower the age at which parents have the right to withdraw children from SRE to 15. CRAE sees this as a small step forward. However, we believe that to meet its human rights obligations the Government should be more ambitious. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is unequivocal that all young people should be provided with, and not be denied, accurate and appropriate information on how to protect their health and on the development and practice healthy behaviours. This should include information on safe and respectful social and sexual behaviours.[v] In the England submission to the Committee in 2008, over 100 non-governmental organisations called upon the Government to remove parents' right to withdraw children from sex education in school.[vi]

 

10. The European Court of Human Rights ruled on the issue of compulsory sex education in primary and secondary schools in the case of Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark [1976][vii]. The case was brought by six parents who claimed that this education was in breach of Article 2, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right of parents to respect for their religious and philosophical convictions in the education of their children. The parents also claimed breaches of Articles 14 (discrimination on grounds of religion), Article 8 (family and private life) and Article 9 (freedom of religion). The court ruled against them on all counts.

 

Information sharing for Local Safeguarding Children Boards (clause 28)

 

11. Clause 28 of the Bill extends the power of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) to require individuals and bodies to supply relevant information to assist the LSCB to perform its functions. In the drive to protect children through information sharing, it is crucial that children's rights to privacy and confidentiality are maintained. Indeed, children have stressed that safeguarding their rights to privacy and confidentiality are critical elements of an effective child protection system. There are existing concerns regarding the security, privacy, transparency, accuracy and proportionality of databases such as ContactPoint, and children themselves have voiced concerns about what information is held about them, and where it goes.

 

12. Clause 28 of the Bill is far too broad and potentially would stop children seeking much needed advice, information and assistance from a wide range of organisations in the statutory and voluntary sector (including advice lines). Organisations like CRAE that engage with children and young people on an ongoing basis could be required to provide information to LSCBs that the child or we would consider entirely confidential.

 

13. We also have concerns regarding how these new provisions will comply with obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 to collect information for a specified purpose. We would like the Government to confirm whether any additional arrangements will be put in place to monitor compliance with both national and international law with regard to the collection and retention of information about children.

 

Media reporting of family proceedings (clauses 32-41)

 

14. CRAE is a member of the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children and refers Committee members to further briefing material prepared by the Alliance.

 

15. CRAE supports the principle of reforming the family courts to achieve a more transparent and accountable process. However, we are concerned that the provisions laid out in Part 2 of the Bill do not take sufficient account of the best interests or privacy rights of children or their families. Enabling powers in clause 40 will permit the Lord Chancellor to relax the rules on reporting "sensitive personal information".[viii] The effect of this will be that sensitive personal information initially protected by the Bill may be published following the commencement of this clause (unless a court specifically imposes restrictions) thus significantly increasing the likelihood of children and families being identified in press reporting.

 

16. CRAE, along with the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children, feels that these provisions have been adopted without adequate consultation or an assessment of the potential impact on children in terms of their safety, well-being and privacy. Children themselves have expressed concern about media attendance in family courts and have indicated this may limit the information they choose to share. CRAE would like the Government to clarify what measures it has taken to consider alternative methods of improving transparency which would not subject already highly vulnerable children to a range of further risks. We urge MPs to make no further changes to legislation in the absence of an independent evaluation of the impact of media access to the courts following the rule change in April 2009.

 

 

 



[i] The Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) is an alliance of 270 organisations. Not all our members necessarily support the contents of this submission.

[ii] UN Committee on the Rights of the Chid (2001) General Comment No. 1: The aims of education, Article 29(1) CRC/GC/2001/1 http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(symbol)/CRC.GC.2001.1.En?OpenDocument

[iii] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2002) Concluding observations: United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland CRC/C/GBR/CO/4.

[iv] Ofsted (2002) Sex and relationships. A report from the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools.

[v] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003) General comment No. 4. Adolescent Health and Development in the Context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. CRC/GC/2003/4. http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(symbol)/CRC.GC.2003.4.En?OpenDocument

[vi] Children's Rights Alliance for England (2008) State of Children's Rights in England 2008 - Review of UK Government's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - 2008

[vii] Application No 5095/71, 5920/72, 5926/72

[viii] The Bill defines "sensitive personal information" in Schedule 3 under four categories: information given by a relevant child; information relating to a medical, psychological or psychiatric condition; information relating to a medical, psychological or psychiatric examination; and information relating to health care, treatment or therapy.

 

January 2010