Childrens Parliament was delighted to input to the Covid Education Recovery Group today (Thursday 10th December) a group that leads on our national response to the pandemic in terms of the school system. Always up for a challenge, we asked the group to think more about what recovery means from a rights-based perspective and how we can move as adults beyond listening to children to acting as the duty bearers we are.

What is a recovery curriculum?

We are unsure that there is a shared idea about what this is and so how it works in practice. Perhaps keeping the definition broad or adaptable to local circumstance suits us best, but for our purposes we understand the notion of a recovery curriculum is one based on the practice of love and the lived experience of human rights for every person in the school community. It requires adults and children to commit to building relationships based on the idea of human dignity. When we discuss human dignity with children they identify it as an internal sense that is built or undermined in their learning, care and social interactions with others.

To what extent is the notion of recovery and engaging children in the coming months about children’s participation/voice?

As we get ready for UNCRC incorporation now would be the time to acknowledge that a rights-based perspective on recovery is more than participation, more than establishing forums for children and young people to share their views. While this matters it is one element.

In our reporting on the How are you doing? survey we hoped that autumn time and the return to school might see some clear signs of improvement, based on what children had expressed via the three surveys completed in lockdown. In them we had seen a decline in children’s mental health and wellbeing, learning at home was problematic and worrisome for many, a minority told us they were unsafe online or at home, children reminded us that they are aware of the worries their parents or carers have about money. In our optimism we thought by our September survey many aspects would be improving. Reporting subsequently we find that some are and some are not. We have a strong sense that rather than identify that some things became problematic because of lockdown/Covid, maybe the experience of the pandemic has simply exacerbated or exposed what was already there, what was already troubling about children’s lives. Perhaps our understanding of a recovery curriculum needs to be explicit in its recognition that pre-pandemic some children were already left behind.

So having engaged in a participation process, having heard the views of children, what now? Do we evidence our commitment to children by asking the same questions again? What if we paused, reflected on what we have already heard, and then acted, guided by a promise to do things differently because as adults we are duty-bearers who should use our power positively as we have responsibilities to promote, protect and achieve children’s human rights.

In a ‘listening to act’ mode, what do children tell us are the challenges re recovery?

Children’s Parliament is currently working with the David Hume Institute on an initiative to identify innovative approaches to deep-rooted problematic issues in our country, the first stage is identifying those issues. Our MCPs have identified the top 4 as:  Discrimination, Poverty, Climate Change and Digital Inequality. While we now look to other children to come back with innovative game-changing ideas in response, this work already tells us that it is not just our school system that needs to consider recovery, it is every aspect of society.

Using a rights-lens our views of both problems and solutions change. Take attainment – not an issue that has made the MCP list because it is not the problem. Only when you consider attainment as a human right issue do you get to the heart of it – poverty. Perhaps if we applied a similar lens to the statistics we see about children testing positive for Covid-19 and looked at where they live, how much school they are missing, whether these children and families have other identifiable vulnerabilities, we might see those positive test results as a human rights issue for the individuals and communities affected.

What are the challenges to the system in practice?

We offer these examples to evidence the need to use a human rights approach to underpin challenges that are local as well as strategic – all the time remaining creative and brave.

An example:
We have heard this week of a school where there are trained practitioners who can deliver a Forest School curriculum, so the school well understands the value and benefits of outdoor learning/education and has been using it with younger children. Being outdoors is a key mitigation measure re Covid-19, but is also at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence. The hope was that knowledge, skills and approaches could be used with older children. However, to access the outside space requires crossing some local roads which (for younger children to date) had been supported by parent volunteers. Because they are no longer permitted to be part of the school children cannot access the outdoors. What informs this situation? Is it a misinterpretation of guidance? What could inform it and lend itself to solutions – perhaps an understanding of the child’s rights to play and to an education that meets their needs.

An example:
Why would children aged 8 to 14 be worried about exams? It seems strange but they are. We asked about this ‘worry’ in the How are you doing? surveys because we thought we might pick up some concerns in the top range of respondents who were in 1st/2nd year of secondary school. But it seems concerns are common – looking at all respondents (8 to 14 year olds) we see a large increase in worry comparing lockdown to the return to school – from 32% of children identifying exams as a worry to 52% now. For 12 to 14 year old girls reports of worry have risen from 49% to 65%. What would be a rights-based response? Surely it would be to use this time to ask a bigger question than whether to cancel the exam diet in 2021. Perhaps we should ask – considering attainment as a human rights issue – why do we have a system where success is predicated on exams at all? What benefit is there for children being part of a system where exam worry is established by the end of primary school and grows in those early years of secondary?

Culture change

UNCRC incorporation can be viewed as a powerful message to children that as a society we care about them and promise to deliver on our commitment to ensure every child grows up loved, safe and respected. Beyond its power as a message comes implementation/delivery – culture change. Children’s Parliament is here to support implementation, we encourage CERG members in their own settings to ask whether and how their policy and practice is being viewed through the lens of children’s human rights – and finally how these efforts are contributing to a shift in culture that ensures a life lived with dignity for all children.

Rona Blackwood/Colin Morrison
Children’s Parliament                                                         
10.12.20 (CERG meeting)

Engaging children around the notion of recovery across the school system