Archive for the ‘Children’s rights’ Category

Last month I wrote a blog post (an edited version of which has also been published by TESS) in response to the SQA’s pronouncement that their new appeals process had been a success. I disagreed with this assessment, arguing that the new system would in fact exacerbate the issue of educational inequality in Scotland.

To my surprise (and I’m sure entirely coincidentally) the Labour Party’s deputy leader in Scotland yesterday attempted to go on the offensive over this very issue during First Minister’s Questions. Kezia Dugdale challenged Nicola Sturgeon over the huge drop in the number of appeals, arguing that the introduction of a fee for failed appeals had resulted in a system which benefits private schools and, consequently, disadvantages everyone else.

By all rights I should have been pleased to see this issue raised in our nation’s parliament but unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – political point-scoring (on both sides) was much more important than getting to the root of the issue. It became clear almost instantly, for example, that Dugdale doesn’t actually understand how the new system works or how it differs from the old appeals procedure, and Sturgeon’s answers suggested that she isn’t any more informed than her opposition counterpart.

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So it turns out I started a blog a while back, but then quickly lost interest. Having recovered it today, I have decided to repost one of the two entries I made:

 

Suffer the Little Children – 16/02/2011

Last night I watched The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2011 with children’s author Michael Morpurgo. Having been moved by last year’s lecture, in which Terry Pratchett made the case for euthanasia (the lecture was actually delivered by Tony Robinson due to Pratchett’s ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s disease) I was eager to see if a novelist whose work I am somewhat familiar with could achieve something similar; I was not to be disappointed.

For nearly an hour, Morpurgo seamlessly merged exposition with his great gift for storytelling to highlight the shameful way in which children are treated, both around the world and, perhaps worst of all, right here in the UK.

As he (quite correctly) pointed out, the rights of children are far too often violated, curtailed, or simply ignored in the name of political or cultural expediency. Such was the case as thousands of children from asylum seeking families were detained in centres across the country whilst awaiting deportation from the UK. With great fanfare, the current coalition government promised to put an end to this “shameful practice”, but already this promise (like so many others) seems to have been abandoned. For a country which proposes to lecture other nations on their own approaches to the rights of individuals, our own record (and, it would seem, our own future) is a damning indictment.

Morpurgo closed his lecture on the subject of education here in the UK (a topic particularly close to my heart), arguing that we are, at present, utterly failing our children and failing to properly respect their right to education. Specifically, he lauded the systems in New Zealand and Finland, where children are treated as true individuals and where the notion of league tables is considered anathema. We are, I believe, making some progress in Scotland with the new Curriculum for Excellence, but I fear that the changes will, in the end, prove to be little more than cosmetic; individualised learning plans and the rejection of a narrow, state-imposed curriculum are certainly steps in the right direction, but if the path still ends with examinations which are utterly incapable of measuring anything but the ability of young people to pass exams (and the ability of teachers to prepare their pupils for them) then any progress made in earlier years is likely to be undone.

“Far too many of our children are failing,” said Morpurgo. “Which means that we are failing our children.”

In this context, failing must not be defined within the context of examinations which are flawed in terms of both validity and reliability – our failure is to prepare our children and young people for a world far more complex and challenging than that faced by preceding generations. Michael Gove – the UK education secretary – believes that this problem can be tackled by going ‘back to basics’, which in his opinion means restoring the teaching of ‘key facts’ to subjects like geography, music, history and English (a process which the Daily Mail predictably calls a ‘victory for common sense‘).

I would implore Mr Gove to consider two things:
1 – In a world where the concept of a ‘job for life’ will, for most people, disappear, are our children and young people best served by learning ‘key facts’, or by being taught how to think, to analyse, to present and to debate?
2 – If you were to go into hospital with a serious illness, would you be happy to hear your doctor say: “We’re going back to basics at this hospital – when I was growing up things were different.”

 

The rights of children do matter.

Surely, children have a right to life and liberty, especially when they are guilty of no crime?

Surely, children have a right to an education which is engaging, rigorous and, above all, fit for the world in which they do and will live?