Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by Participation Works Partnership (E 20)

[P]upils should have a bigger say in how schools are run.

Michael Gove, April 2010 [1]

About the Participation Works Partnership

1. This submission has been prepared by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England on behalf of Participation Works, a partnership of six national children and young people’s agencies that are working together to ensure that all children and young people are given information, opportunities and appropriate assistance to participate in decision-making that affects them, as individuals and collectively. Our membership includes the British Youth Council, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, the National Children’s Bureau, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, the National Youth Agency and Save the Children. Participation Works has a comprehensive programme of activity and resources on participation which include workshops, training sessions and practitioner networks, designed to support organisations and practitioners who work with children and young people under 25 years old.

Introduction

2. This briefing focuses on ways in which the Bill should be strengthened to ensure children and young people's involvement in decision-making in schools. In particular, we call upon Parliament to:

· Enable students to appeal their own exclusions

· Enable students to become full members of school governing bodies

· Retain the power for students to submit a complaint to the Local Commissioner.

Children and young people’s right to participate in decision-making

3. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was ratified by the UK in 1991 with cross-party support. As a signatory to the CRC, the UK must take all possible steps to fully realise the rights and freedoms in the Convention, including Article 12:

States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

4. The international monitoring body for the CRC, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted in 2008 that ‘participation of children in all aspects of schooling is inadequate, since children have very few consultation rights’ and called on the UK Government to ‘strengthen children’s participation in all matters of school, classroom and learning which affect them’ . It urged the Government to ‘promote, facilitate and implement, in legislation as well as in practice, within the family, schools, and the community as well as in institutions and in administrative and judicial proceedings, the principle of respect for the views of the child ’. [2]

5. The Participation Works Partnership strongly welcomed the coalition Government's promise in December 2010 that it would give due consideration to the CRC when making new law and policy. We urge Parliament to consider how students’ rights to participate in decision-making can be strengthened through the Education Bill.

Right of students to appeal their own exclusions

6. Participation Works notes with great concern that independent appeals panels will no longer be able to reinstate unfairly excluded students (Clause 4). Where a student has been unjustly excluded from their school it is only right that they should be able to return. To deny such a remedy is counter to the principles of natural justice.

7. Furthermore, we believe that students’ involvement in the exclusions process is crucial to resolving difficulties and urge Parliament to implement the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to ‘ensure that children who are able to express their views have the right to appeal against their exclusion …’. [3]

8. At present, only parents and young people over the age of 18 have the right to bring an appeal against a permanent exclusion. As the law stands, if those with parental responsibility are unwilling or unable to appeal children have no redress and subsequently no safeguard to protect their entitlement to education. This is a particular problem for looked after children, whose parental responsibility lies with the local authority.

Right of students to serve on school governing bodies

9. Participation Works notes provisions in the Bill to amend the structure of school governing bodies (Clause 37) and calls on Parliament to amend the Bill to ensure that students are able to serve as full members of school governing bodies. A change in the law in 1986 removed the right of children and young people to become student governors. [4]

10. In 2009, the Committee on the Rights of the Child made clear that:

Respect for the right of the child to be heard within education is fundamental to the realization of the right to education…

Steady participation of children in decision-making processes should be achieved through, inter alia, class councils, student councils and student representation on school boards and committees, where they can freely express their views on the development and implementation of school policies and codes of behaviour . These rights need to be enshrined in legislation, rather than relying on the goodwill of authorities, schools and head teachers to implement them. [5]

11. The membership of the school governing body should reflect the diversity of the school community, including students, parents, staff and the local education authority. Enabling students to serve as governors would complement, but not replace, existing mechanisms for children and young people’s participation in school decisions (for example school councils); individual student governors would not act as representatives for the student body as a whole.

Right of students to submit a complaint to the Local Commissioner

12. Participation Works is extremely disappointed that the Bill repeals powers for students and parents to submit a complaint regarding a school to the Local Commissioner (also known as the Local Government Ombudsman) (Clause 44). Without this power, many students will be unable to access an independent means to resolve a complaint with the school.

13. Participation Works believes that, wherever possible, complaints should be resolved at the school level. However, where this is not possible, students must be able to access independent redress. Whilst students will be able to request that the Secretary of State considers their complaint, there are only very limited circumstances in which the Minister can intervene and provide a remedy.

14. It should also be noted that an anomaly in Ofsted’s procedure for dealing with school complaints disadvantages students. Although both students and parents can make representations to Ofsted in writing about the work of a school as a whole, the Chief Inspector can only make specific requests to the school for information, require the school to arrange a meeting of parents at the school or report the outcome of any investigation to the school and parents, when the complainant is a parent. [6]

15. Research with children has found that they receive little information about making complaints in school, and many do not believe that a complaint by a student will be taken seriously or treated independently. [7] We urge the Government to remove Clause 44 from the Bill in order to ensure that students have access to independent oversight of disputes with schools.

16. We hope that you will support children and young people’s right to be involved in decision-making in schools.

February 2011


[1] Participation Works (2010) An Equal Place at the Table for Children and Young People: National Participation Strategic Vision , page 8 http://www.participationworks.org.uk/files/webfm/files/npf~/npf_publications/An%20Equal%20Place%20at%20the%20Table_jun10.pdf

[2] Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland , p ara . 66, 67 and 33 http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC.C.GBR.CO.4.pdf

[3] Ibid. , para . 67h)

[4] Section 3 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986

[5] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2009) General Comment Number 12: The right of the child to be heard CRC/C/GC/12

[6] The Education (Investigation of Parents’ Complaints) ( England ) Regulations 2007

[6] http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2007/pdf/uksi_20071089_en.pdf

[7] Children’s Rights Alliance for England (2008) What do they know? Investigating the human rights concerns of children and young people in England