GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Comhairle Choitcheann Teagaisg na h-Alba

Scotland leads the way on children’s rights

On 16 March, in the Year of Childhood, the Scottish Parliament voted to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law.

This article appeared on page 20 of Teaching Scotland, issue 88. Read the full magazine.

Commenting on this historic day, Cathy McCulloch OBE, Children’s Parliament Co-director, said: “Children’s experiences of adults’ behaviours are inconsistent. In the public sphere, their experiences range from feeling valued, loved and encouraged to feeling humiliated, ignored and scared. They ‘hope’ the next adult with influence over their life is going to be kind and understanding, not shout at them or make them feel anxious. Scotland is a country where ‘hope’ is all they have had. Until now.”

When asked what children’s human rights means for children, one young Member of Children’s Parliament said: “Adults might think children’s rights means children get to do what they want. But that’s not what it is. Children don’t want to be able to do what we want all the time. Rights mean that adults have to be kind to us and not shout or do bad things to us. They have to help us be the best we can be.”

What this means for education professionals


Incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law places a legal duty on all public bodies to promote and uphold children’s rights. For education professionals, it is important to understand what this entails. A good place to start is GTC Scotland’s A children’s rights-based approach, a professional guide for teachers written in partnership with Education Scotland.

The guide is intended to help teachers embed a children’s rights-based approach and effective learner participation into their teaching. A rights-based approach to education promotes improved relationships, ethos and attainment and achievement.

Many teachers have already embraced rights-based approaches, and this needs to be further developed. All teachers need to become familiar with the UNCRC and have child-friendly versions available for learners to access, discuss and refer to. Staff, parents and carers and the wider community should also be aware of the UNCRC, and work with the school to promote children’s rights. Approaches to teaching, planning and policy development should all reflect and uphold the rights of children.

Five resources for your practice

1. The full text

Where better to start than with the UNCRC? The full document lays out all 54 articles, as well as why they are important. Unicef has also put together a one-page summary of articles 1-42 for quick reference. Check the full document for Articles 43-54, which relate to how adults and government must work together to ensure that the UNCRC is upheld.

2. Helping learners understand their rights

Now that the UNCRC will become law, it is important that children are aware and understand that their rights and voice matter. Young Scot’s Activate Your Rights pack contains information and resources for children of all ages. From posters and videos, to podcasts and quizzes, there are a range of fun activities you can use in the classroom.

3. Learner participation

Articles 28 and 29 are all about children’s rights to education. Children should be engaged in their learning and encouraged to participate. Education Scotland has a wealth of resources to help teachers define and enact participation in the classroom.

4. Decision making

Making children’s voices heard when it comes to all kinds of decision making is an essential part of the UNCRC (Article 12, Right to be heard). This includes decision making at school level. The Scottish Government has put together its own research and resources to provide guidance to those looking to engage children and young people in projects. This can be a great starting point for schools looking to engage their learners.

5. Self-evaluation

The Professional Values of social justice, trust and respect and integrity are fully reflected in the UNCRC. You can use the questions on page five of our professional guide, as well as Education Scotland’s learning resource, to develop and measure your knowledge and understanding of the UNCRC.

Four general principles of the UNCRC

1. Non-discrimination, meaning the UNCRC applies to all children: Article 2;
2. The best interests of the child: Article 3;
3. Every child has the right to life, survival and opportunities to develop to their full potential: Article 6; and
4. Every child has a right to be heard and for their views to be taken into account in matters that affect them: Article 12.