The General Teaching Council for Scotland

23 Aug 2016

Bringing child rights into the classroom

Guest blog: Katy Brown, UK Programmes Project Officer, Unicef UK

In an environment where teachers already have to juggle so many competing policy demands, why is it so important that children and young people learn about their rights?


What is a child-rights approach to education?

Children and young people are not always in a position to stand up for their own rights. That’s why it’s crucial that society establishes a legal framework that embeds and protects their best interests.  The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out 54 articles, which cover the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that allow children and young people to live with dignity and achieve their full potential. The Convention was established in 1989 and ratified by the UK in 1991.

It is generally understood that a child-rights approach to education means to educate in a way that reflects the principles set out the UNCRC, enabling children and young people to exercise their rights.

The four general principles of the UNCRC are:

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

Why should I take a child-rights approach?

Article 42 of the UNCRC requires that children, young people and adults learn and know about the UNCRC.
Children’s rights have been embedded into Scottish Law through several pieces of legislation. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 echoes Article 12 of the UNCRC: the right for all children’s views to be respected. The Standards in Scotland Schools, etc Act 2000 requires schools to develop mechanisms for pupil participation and active citizenship; and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 places duties on Scottish Government Ministers to give due consideration to the UNCRC as they develop policy and legislation, and to promote awareness and understanding of the rights of children.

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC), Scotland’s national approach, aims to improve outcomes and support the well-being of children and young people in Scotland by offering the right help at the right time from the right people. Critically, this includes the education system.

So that’s the legal and national imperative for taking a child-rights based approach to education- but what about the tangible outcomes for children?
The evidence in favour of adopting a rights-based approach to learning is overwhelming.  Qualitative studies include reports of increased tolerance amongst pupils , better behaviour in class , higher self- esteem, improved well-being  and an increased understanding of democratic principles and citizenship.

Empowering children and young people to be active citizens in school is something that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has explicitly encouraged in their latest review of the UK Government’s implementation of the UNCRC.   This requires children and young people to be supported in the development of their skills, particularly, speaking, listening, empathy, negotiation and debate.

It is our hope that Child Rights Launchpad, Unicef UK’s free digital platform for children in Scotland to explore their rights, will empower Scotland’s next generation by helping them to understand their rights.

Child Rights Launchpad was developed as a legacy project from Unicef UK’s Partnership with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. The award-winning, Scotland-specific digital resource is freely available to all teachers, and other adults working with children and young people, across Scotland. Sign up now on The Child Rights Launchpad website: