The Good Shepherd Centre has achieved its UNICEF Rights Respecting School Bronze Award, which celebrates the work the centre is doing to respect and protect the rights of its young residents. In this guest blog, Leona Donnelly (Deputy Head of Education) and Fiona Haigh (Languages Teacher) share the GSC rights respecting journey – and why involving children in all activities was key to success.
A little known fact about UNICEF: they work in 190 countries across the globe, not just those classed as Third World. Lots of people who think about UNICEF picture them working in Africa to provide education and clean water to children who are at risk of contracting disease; however, UNICEF is, and does, so much more! They work tirelessly across the world to ensure children’s rights are upheld. In the UK, one of the most successful initiatives run by UNICEF is the Rights Respecting Schools programme. There are three levels to becoming a Rights Respecting School: Bronze, Silver, and Gold.
At the Good Shepherd Centre, we are delighted to announce that we have recently achieved our Bronze award. The process we undertook to apply for and accomplish this provided us with an insight into the considerable number of activities and strategies we already undertake at the centre, to promote the rights of the child.
To gain the award, we wanted to build on successes we had already achieved, like the ‘Power of Words’ day. This full-centre event involved our young people and staff reflecting on language and rights. Our pupils told us that the language used often felt clinical and contained too much professional jargon. They provided us with examples of words and phrases they did not like, and suggestions on how to make the language more nurturing. Our first Centre Charter was also created from this event, based on the UNCRC articles most important to our young people, and how we can all uphold these rights and responsibilities as a centre.
Our young people are actively encouraged to use their voices to call for action, exercise rights and invoke change. In recent years they have participated in workshops and events contributing towards the Secure Care Pathway and Standards Scotland (launched October 2020), to improve the journey before, during and after secure care. Many of our pupils also participated in the Independent Care Review ‘1000 Voices’ campaign. This resulted in the publication of ‘The Promise’, identifying five foundations and over 80 specific changes that must be made to transfer how Scotland cares and realises the vision to become ‘the best place in the world to grow up’. We are incredibly proud of how much our young people contribute to positive change, both nationally and on a smaller scale, through forums like our Pupil Council and Eco Schools group.
Although the award is known as ‘Rights Respecting School’, for us it is more than that. We do not want to just be a Rights Respecting School…we want to be a Rights Respecting Centre! To achieve this, one of the things we must consider is what adults can do to ensure young people’s rights are promoted and respected in school, and in the houses. This requires a commitment from everyone: teachers, support staff, care staff, senior management, admin staff, domestic and maintenance staff. Our young people may be learning about the rights they are entitled to, but they are also discovering what it means to be a rights-holder and the responsibility that comes with this. We must all work together to fulfil our Rights Respecting Centre dream.
To begin our journey towards the Silver Award, we held another fun-filled day that encouraged our young people to tell us how we can further uphold their rights. The plans were finalised by our Steering Group and considered some of the big issues facing young people around the world today and in the past, when the UNCRC was created. Some of the activities included creating a ‘Rights Respecting Tapestry’, updating and redesigning the Centre Charter, reflection on ‘Then and Now’ and planning a ‘Rights Respecting’ Media Project. The event was a great success, even with the current pandemic restrictions. What better time to have held the event than just as the Scottish Government was passing the UNCRC (Scotland) Bill to incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law?
It really is a pivotal time for the development of children’s rights education, particularly for care experienced young people. Sadly, we often see young people arrive at the GSC, who have given up on education due to previous negative experiences. Events like our Rights Respecting day provides our pupils with the opportunity to engage in matters that are truly meaningful and important. This participation can provide them with that little bit of confidence to realise how powerful their voices can be, support re-engagement in education and provide hope for the future. The feedback from our young people regarding such activities is also a crucial part of our journey to becoming a rights aware, rights committed and rights respecting centre. So here we are, full speed ahead, on our journey to Silver, where we aspire to be a place where children and young people’s rights are understood, learned and lived.
Image credit to the Good Shepherd Centre.