Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Children's Legal Centre

INTRODUCTION

  1.  This submission was prepared by the Children's Legal Centre—an independent national charity aimed at promoting children's rights in the UK and worldwide. The Children's Legal Centre has particular expertise in the area of education law, being one of the leading providers of education law advice and casework in England. The Centre submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to inform its periodic review of the UK Government.[159] The report focused exclusively on education, and examined the extent to which the right to education has been implemented in England.[160] This submission presents a summary of the report, which analysed the key issues of concern for the UN Committee in relation to the Government's implementation of the right to education.

2.  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its concluding observations on the UK Government, outlined a number of key areas in which the Government has failed to implement fully the right to education in England. These concerns included:

    —  the persistence of significant inequalities in access to education and educational outcomes for children from vulnerable groups (children living in economic hardship, children with disabilities, children of Travellers, Roma children, asylum-seeking children, drop-outs and non-attendees and teenage mothers). The UN Committee also noted that children in custody do not have a statutory right to education;

    —  inadequacy of participation by children in young people in all aspects of Restriction of the right to complain regarding educational provisions to parents;

    —  the serious and widespread problem of bullying; and

    —  the high number of permanent and temporary school exclusions, which disproportionately affect children from vulnerable groups.

  3.  In its alternative report on the right to education in England, the Children's Legal Centre examined these key concerns and made a number of recommendations on how to address these concerns, in order to ensure that the Government fully adheres to the right to education contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

INEQUALITIES IN ACCESS TO EDUCATION AND EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES

  4.   Children in custody do not have a statutory right to education. Many children in custody are not educated under the National Curriculum and do not receive education that is full-time. Also, support for children in custody with Special Educational Needs (SEN) is severely lacking.

Recommendations

    —  The Education Act 1996 should be amended so that the statutory guarantee to education applies to children serving sentences in detention. —  Consideration should be given to providing education for young offenders in community schools, as a means of helping prepare young offenders to reintegrate into society.

    —  Where children in detention continue receiving education in detention, the Government should ensure that Local Authorities (LAs) are responsible for the education of children in detention and juvenile detention facilities should work more closely with them.

    —  Statistics on the number of hours spent on education and training for children of compulsory school age who are in secure institutions should be collated—disaggregated by type of education or training received—and regularly reviewed.

    —  The LAs duty to provide support specified in a Statement of Special Educational Needs should continue when a child is in a juvenile detention facility.

  5.   Children in immigration detention do not have a statutory right to education. Detained refugee and asylum-seeking children are educated within detention centres, which compromises their welfare, development and future education and opportunities. Educational provision in immigration detention centres is unsatisfactory—of poor quality, with a narrow curriculum, a lack of individual learning plans or accreditation systems and a lack of suitable target-setting.

Recommendations

    —  LAs should be under an obligation to provide education to asylum-seeking children, and the statutory guarantee to education should apply to children seeking asylum. —  Asylum-seeking children should be educated at schools in the community, rather than in immigration detention.

    —  Where children continue to be educated in immigration detention centres, the Government should introduce monitoring and assessment mechanisms in order to regularly monitor and improve the quality of education provided to detained children.

  6.  Many refugee and asylum-seeking children experience unacceptable delays in gaining access to education; many are placed in schools unable to meet their needs; and for many of these children, access to the full curriculum is restricted due to financial obstacles. In addition, a lack of specificity in funding arrangements mean that refugee and asylum-seeking children will not always receive important financial support they require to access education. Access to further education is also limited as the Education Maintenance Allowance that supports post-16 education does not apply to asylum-seekers.

Recommendations

    —  The Government should introduce targeted, ring-fenced funding to increase access of refugee and asylum-seeking children to education. —  The Government should provide guidelines on the placement of refugee and asylum-seekers under the dispersal policy, ensuring that refugee and asylum-seekers are placed in areas with suitable educational provision available to meet their or their children's needs.

    —  The Government should collect disaggregated data and set targets in order to monitor and improve the educational outcomes of refugee and asylum-seeking children.

    —  The Government should introduce guidelines for LAs, setting out strict timelines for making educational placements of refugee and asylum-seeking children.

  7.  The Government has failed to ensure that children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities have equal access to suitable, appropriate education. There is a lack of suitable educational provision for children with SEN and disabilities. A flexible continuum of educational provision should be made available in each LA area to meet the needs of children with SEN and disabilities. However, for these children, particularly for those children with autism and Aspergers Syndrome, there is a lack of suitable educational provision in many LA areas to meet the needs of these children. Many children with SEN are not properly assessed in terms of the type of provision and support they require, which hinders their access to the most suitable education. In addition, attainment levels are not properly monitored for this group of children. In addition, many mainstream schools do not effectively adapt their systems, curriculum, and teaching methods to meet the needs of children with SEN.

Recommendations

    —  The Government should conduct an audit to identify areas in which there is a lack of suitable provision for children with SEN and disabilities. —  Resources should be made available to ensure that there is a range of sufficient educational provision available to meet the needs of children with SEN and disabilities, both in mainstream and alternative school settings.

    —  The Government should encourage mainstream schools, including well-performing schools, to accept more children with SEN and disabilities.

    —  Admissions of children with SEN should be carefully monitored to ensure that all mainstream schools are accepting an adequate number of children with SEN and disabilities.

    —  The Government should develop a national framework setting out minimum standards on the provision of suitable education for children with SEN. In particular, the Government should act on the recommendations of the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee and ensure that LAs develop a child-centred approach with regard to each stage of the statementing process, in particular in the assessment of needs, allocation of resources and placement.

    —  The Government should set challenging targets for LAs on educational outcomes for children with SEN.

    —  In accordance with the recommendation of the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee,[161] the Government should clarify its position on SEN, particularly on inclusion of children with SEN in mainstream schools, and produce a clear, over-arching policy for SEN.

    —  The Government needs to significantly increase investment in training its workforce so that all staff, including teaching staff, are fully equipped and resourced to improve outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities.

  8.  For the 60,000 children in care, many have missed a significant amount of schooling. Also, educational outcomes for these children continue to be poor compared to their peers.

Recommendations

    —  The Government should set clear targets for educational access and attainment of children in care, to ensure that children in care can achieve the same educational outcomes as their peers. LAs should be given sufficient resources to allow them to achieve these targets. They should also set regular inspection, monitoring and evaluation systems against these targets. —  The Government should ensure that teachers receive effective, in-depth training on the needs and challenges faced by children in care. They should also ensure that foster parents receive training and support necessary to allow them to contribute positive guidance and support to children in their care.

    —  The Government should also set targets for reducing the number of placements that children in care go through, in order to avoid disruption to their lives and their education.

  9.  Educational attainment is much lower for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, as educational achievements are strongly linked to their parents' social and economic backgrounds.

Recommendation

    —  The Government should thoroughly review and address factors which impair the ability for economically disadvantaged children to be engaged with the education system and their ability to achieve their full potential.

      10.  Teenage mothers continue to experience obstacles in gaining access to education, which the Government has largely failed to address.

    Recommendation

    —  The Government should increase funding for child care for teenage mothers, to allow more young people to continue in education or training.

      11.  Children from minority ethnic backgrounds continue to experience unequal access to education and educational attainment. Many Roma and Traveller children are not registered in school and, as a group, have very low school attendance rates. Also, Roma and Traveller children have low educational attainment compared to their peers. Children of African and Afro-Caribbean origin experience systemic racism in the education system, which has resulted in poor educational outcomes for these children compared to that of their peers.

    Recommendations

    —  The Government should initiate compulsory training of school staff (particularly teachers) to sensitise staff to the experiences of minority ethnic students in the education system, and reduce the negative stereotyping and low expectations staff may have about children, based on their ethnic background. —  The Government should ensure that LAs increase the number of Traveller sites in their area to allow children to become more settled and better able to access education.

    —  The Government should provide targeted, ring-fenced funding to schools to increase access to the education system for children from Roma and Traveller backgrounds.

  12.  For the 135,000 children each year who are unable to attend school (due, for instance, to medical needs, exclusion, bullying or school phobia), the Government has failed to ensure that they receive appropriate, suitable alternative educational provision. Alternative educational provision is often insufficient and of poor quality.

Recommendations

    —  The Government should ensure that LAs develop information collection systems which will allow them to identify children who are not in school. This should allow them to monitor each child in their area, to ensure that every child, including those who cannot attend school, receive suitable, quality education. —  Schools should be placed under an obligation to advise LAs of all children on school rolls who are not currently receiving full-time education on school premises.

    —  The 2008 Government White Paper on alternative provision makes a number of recommendations for improving the quality of alternative educational provision. These recommendations should be implemented as a matter of priority to ensure that all children, whether in school or not, receive suitable quality education.

CHILD PARTICIPATION AND COMPLAINTS

  13.  Children are denied the right to participate in many procedural and substantive aspects of the education system. In many areas, the law recognises the parent/s as the holder of the right to education, to the exclusion of children, which has, in practice, resulted in the denial of children's participation in decision-making concerning their education.

14.  Children do not have a right to express their views in relation to school admission, including choice of school. The law does not impose an obligation on LAs to consider the wishes of the child by, for instance, allowing the child to make submissions as to what type of educational provision would best suit him or her and at which school the child would like to be educated.

  15.  Children do not have a separate right of appeal against school admission or exclusion decisions or against decisions concerning SEN provision. This means that, where parents are disinterested or anxious about pursuing an appeal on their child's behalf, the child will be unable to enforce important procedural rights in relation to their education. This is particularly concerning for children in care, who must rely on their foster carer, who is employed by the LA, to initiate the appeal. Children who are in care, but have not been placed with foster carers, must rely on their LA social worker to appeal school admission and exclusion decisions.

  16.  Many children do not have the ability to participate effectively in decision-making within their schools, and systematic forms of participation, such as participation in school councils, is not a statutory right for children in England. Empirical studies indicate that participation in schools generally occurs on a one-off or isolated basis, rather than being embedded in a systematic process.

  17.  Parents have the unconditional right, in English law, to withdraw their child from sex and relationships education and collective worship. There is no obligation on the part of LAs or schools to consider the views of the child in relation to any withdrawal.

Recommendations

    —  The Government should legislate to give children a statutory right to make representations, and to have these representations taken into account, concerning school admissions, including choice of school. —  The Government should give children a separate statutory right to appeal against school admission and exclusion decisions. It should also give children a separate right of appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal concerning SEN provision by LAs. Children who make an appeal against school admissions, exclusions and SEN provision should have access to free, quality legal representation.

    —  Children should be given a statutory right to participate in decision-making in schools. This could include the right to participate in school councils.

    —  The unconditional right of parents to remove their child from sex and relationships education and collective worship should be withdrawn.

BULLYING

  18.  Despite Government attempts to tackle wide-spread bullying in English schools, it is still very common in many schools across England, and continues to cause many children to miss school for periods of time, or to withdraw from attending school completely.

19.  Some children are particularly vulnerable to bullying, including those with SEN or visible medical conditions. Racist and homophobic bullying is also particularly widespread.

  20.  Studies have highlighted the inaction on the part of many schools to bullying complaints. Children in England do not have recourse to any effective complaints mechanisms following inaction on the part of schools where they have been bullied. In relation to bullying, schools are not subject to the oversight of the Local Government Ombudsman. Therefore, even where schools fail to follow anti-bullying policies, children can only complain to school governors, the LA or the Secretary of State.

Recommendations

    —  The Government should, as a matter of priority, investigate and share best practice in tackling bullying in schools. Anti-bullying strategies should include responding to particular types of bullying (racist, homophobic and bullying of children with disabilities or SEN in particular). —  The Government should mandate that schools develop more direct work with children and young people to enhance their participation in formulating and implementing anti-bullying strategies.

    —  In order to measure schools' progress in listening to pupils and to facilitate the sharing of best practice, the methods used by schools to consult with children and young people about bullying and in the development of anti-bullying strategies should be included as a topic for Ofsted inspections.

    —  The Government should consider introducing an independent investigator to address bullying complaints when they remain unresolved.

EXCLUSIONS

  21.  A large number of children continue to be excluded from school every year. There were 8,680 permanent and 363,270 fixed-period exclusions from schools in England in 2006-07. Many more children were "informally" excluded, as schools will use methods other than official exclusion to keep children off school premises, including persuading parents to remove children from school and keep them at home.

22.  Some groups of children—children with SEN, Roma and Traveller children, children of African and Afro-Caribbean origin, economically disadvantaged children and children in care—continue to be excluded at much higher rates than the whole school population.

Recommendations

    —  The Government should set targets for reducing the number of both fixed-term and permanent exclusions and identify and eradicate informal exclusions. These targets should aim at reducing the disproportionate rate at which groups of children—including Black and Minority Ethnic children, children in care, children from disadvantaged backgrounds and children with SEN—are excluded. —  Measures aimed at reducing exclusions should include new initiatives and approaches to respond to challenging behaviour in schools without resorting to exclusion.

February 2009









159   The report is available at: http://www.childrenslegalcentre.com/research/Researchprojects/currentukprojects.htm Back

160   This submission deals exclusively with how the right to education has been implemented in England, owing to the particular expertise of the Children's Legal Centre in education law and practice in England. Back

161   House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, Special Educational Needs, Third Report of Session 2005-06, Volume 1, p 6. Back


 
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