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Pupils finding their place in the world

IT might seem obvious that the child should be the central focus of a school.

But at Swinton Primary in Baillieston, Glasgow, teaching staff have embedded the rights of the child into every aspect of educating pupils.

In 2009, head teacher Michelle Wright decided to set the school on a path to becoming a Unicef Rights Respecting School. The primary has now become the first in Glasgow, and one of the first in Scotland, to earn a Level 2 Award.

The result, Wright said, has been to completely transform the ethos of the school, creating confident, outward-looking children. She said: "Teaching the children about their rights gives them a much greater global dimension - it helps them understand their place in the world."

Children's rights form part of the Curriculum for Excellence and so every school in Scotland will be expected to give pupils some knowledge of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. But at a Unicef Rights Respecting School, children's rights form the basis of not just every lesson, but also every interaction that takes place in the school.

The issues dealt with are sophisticated and complex, but Wright and her staff ensure they are tailored to each year group. For the infant classes, puppets are used to show pupils the differences between rights and privileges - food is a right, but crisps are a privilege, for example.

Each year group chooses three rights at the beginning of the school year, which then inform lessons.

Swinton trains its older pupils in peer mediation and has a group of primary six pupils who are stationed in the playground at lunchtime. They help the younger classes - from P1 to P3 - resolve any disputes that might arise, with the caveat that anything physical goes straight to a teacher.

Jack Smith, Lucie Connor and Millie Marriott-Laurie, all aged 10, are three peer mediators.

The trio are well spoken, focused young people who all seem confident they could help solve any problems that arise at break time.

"We deal with fall-outs, disagreements, problems with sharing," said Millie.

"If we think there is a problem then we invite the children involved to come inside and talk through it.

"We can't force them, though. They have the right to say no."

"It's a good thing to do," said Jack, "because you're helping out young people who don't have the life skills to deal with problems themselves."

Having rights as the focus of the school day makes pupils more aware of others - so has bullying become a thing of the past?

Wright said: "Any teacher who says they don't have bullying in school would be lying, but we deal very swiftly with any issues and the children are good at sorting things out among themselves, though they always know they have the support of teachers.

"Learning about the pupils' rights is important but they also know that they have to help other people enjoy their rights, too.

"That's sometimes a difficult message to get across to younger pupils who can be more self-centred, but they quickly grasp that they have to help other children with their rights to play and their rights to learn."

Parents, too, are benefitting from the embedding of rights in the ethos of the school.

Millie's mum, Fran, said she has seen a change in the attitudes and behaviour of pupils, Millie included.

She said: "There was a huge faldarah when this was introduced because we didn't know what it would mean but the results have been completely positive.

"Young children tend to be very self-centred but this has given them an understanding of how fortunate they are, but also that their rights need to be protected.

"As a parent, too, you feel your rights are being respected. I have never once been turned away or felt that the teachers don't have enough time for me.

"You can feel the positive atmosphere as soon as you walk through the door."

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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