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Volume 53, No. 4, November 2018
Reconceptualising system transitions in education for marginalised and vulnerable groups
Guest Editors: Paul Downes, Erna Nairz‐Wirth, Jim Anderson

Volume 53, No. 3, September 2018
Learner agency at the confluence between rights-based approaches and well-being
Guest Editor: Jean Gordon

Volume 53, No. 2 June 2018
Special Issue: Are Student Assessments Fit For Their Purposes?
Guest Editor: Janet Looney

Volume 53, No. 1. March 2018
Special Issue: Innovative approaches to Continuous Professional Development in Early Childhood Education and Care. A European perspective.
Guest Editors: Brecht Peleman, Bente Jensen and Jan Peeters

Volume 52, No. 4 December 2017
Special Issue: Education for people, prosperity and planet: Can we meet the sustainability challenges?
Guest Editor: Aaron Benavot

Volume 52, No. 3 September 2017
Title: Participatory Design for (Built) Learning Environments
Guest Editors: Karen D. Könings and Susan McKenney

Volume 52, No. 2 June 2017
Title: The Influence of PISA on Education Policies
Guest Editors: Alain Michel and Xavier Pons

Volume 52, No.1 March 2017
Title : Higher education learning outcomes - transforming higher education ?
Guest Editors : Joakim Caspersen and Nicoline Frolich

Volume 51, No.4 December 2016
Title: Governance Dynamics in Complex Decentralised Education Systems
Guest Editors: Edith Hooge

Volume 51, No 3 September 2016
Title : Vocational Schooling and Social Exclusion in the Western Balkans
Guest Editors : Claire Gordon and Will Bartlett

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UNICEF: Right Respecting Schools (RRS) - by Hanne Aertgeerts

The RRS approach 

Right respecting schools (RRS) is an approach driven by UNICEF to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in the daily life of formal education. The principles and values of the CRC are applied in every aspect of the school, including curriculum planning, policy, practice and the school vision and ethos. The overall aim of the approach is to create a participative, inclusive, and safe school culture where respect for every member of the school community is guaranteed. The approach influences relationships between every actor in the school environment and is applicable in any school context. RRS does not seek to ‘control’ children’s behaviour, but aims to positively transform practices in the learning environment to incorporate the strong values of the CRC (UNICEF, 2014; Wernham, 2015).
The UNICEF Child Rights Education (CRE) Toolkit provides building blocks as an inspiration on how to become a rights respecting school, but as emphasised by UNICEF, these are not  to be considered as conditions or a checklist for programme design and implementation. The school’s ‘participatory journey’ is seen as being more important than ‘ticking off’ boxes from a checklist. Consequently, the execution of the RRS approach is developed within each school’s context. However, the schools all have common principles: they are inclusive, democratic, child-centred, protective, sustainable and they actively promote and implement the rights of the child.  Individuals involved in the programme note that because the approach is embedded in the universal, long-term and widely accepted international framework of the CRC, it is resilient in the face of local policy changes and may be applied in any context or situation (UNICEF, 2014; Wernham, 2015).
Right respecting schools may be found in Europe and Canada. UNICEF UK has been running this approach since 2005 as a pilot, rolling out the Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA) programme in 2010. Over 3300 primary and secondary schools have registered. Other European countries are in the early stages of implementing the approach, including Slovakia, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark (Wernham, 2015).

The Child Rights Education Tree 

The RRS approach is presented through the image of the Child Rights Education Tree (see figure 1 below).  It is intended to communicate the importance of both advocacy and capacity building present throughout the process of designing and implementing the school approach (UNICEF, 2014).  The tree trunk ‘learning as a right’ refers to the right of access to education and the principle that education should be provided throughout all stages of childhood and beyond.  Barriers that prevent children going to school should be removed in order to obtain an equal opportunity for every child (UNICEF, 2014).
The centre of the tree, the ‘whole school approach’ to CRE, brings together the different aspects of CRE (represented as the three tree branches: learning about rights, learning through rights and learning for rights). It combines learning about and understanding children’s’ rights with undertaking action to advocate for and implement rights in practice. Participation of every actor involved in school life is central. Examples of this include involving the whole school by organising theme days or weeks or implementing a project which uses homework as a communication channel with parents and caregivers. Another idea is to partner up with other schools, on a national or international level. (Jolly, 2015; UNICEF, 2014; Wernham, 2015).  
You definitely know when you walk through the halls the values of the school and how the CRC is integrated into everything. Rights are touching each part of the curriculum and the learning process.
- Education consultant visiting a Rights Respecting School in Canada (UNICEF, 2014, p 74).
Considering the CRE Tree branches in turn, firstly, learning about rights takes place in the intended/official and taught curriculum (that is, what is supposed to be taught and what is actually taught in practice). Space should be made in the official curriculum for opportunities to learn about child rights and in the taught curriculum by providing CRE training in teacher education. Teachers also need with quality resources to teach about rights. When curricula are developed at a national or regional level, policy-makers should be made aware of the importance of child rights education.  Programme leaders also not that online communities of practice for teachers and students can help to influence the taught curriculum. It is intended as a place where participants can start discussions, share knowledge and be informed about CRE developments. As an example, the UK UNICEF RRSA website providers teachers with ideas to integrate child rights into regular courses. In addition, the school management can provide ideas and hints on how to relate CRC articles to school topics (Jolly, 2015; UNICEF, 2014; Wernham, 2015).
It’s crucial
that we make sure that the young people feel that there is an element of relevance of what they are studying, and focusing it in on these key rights that they have which are codified within the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a very useful focus in most subject areas.”
- Principal, Secondary school UK (UNICEF, 2014, p91).
Barriers to implementation of the approach include perceptions that the RRS approach is ‘just another project’, or concerns regarding the extra workload.  RRS programme leaders argue that  rights can be used across all different areas, for example, health promotion, for example. Jolly (2015) argues that  the RRS approach often reduces the workload through improved relationships and cooperation among all actors in school.
The second CRE Tree branch, learning through rights, is all about putting children’s rights into practice in everyday life at school as well as on a strategic level. Examples of this include providing a child-friendly, safe and healthy environment, rights-based learning and assessment, a broad, relevant and inclusive curriculum free from stereotypes, and respect for children’s integrity, identity and participation rights. Children can, for example, scan the world and their own environment for rights abuses (Jolly, 2015; UNICEF, 2014).
I don’t have to be afraid of the power of children.”
- Primary school teacher, Canada (UNICEF, 2014, p114).
Learning about and through rights is intended to lead to learning for rights, the third CRE Tree branch. This means taking action to realise rights and promote them in every situation. This can be occur through awareness raising, campaigns, advocacy and practical action - at local community level and for global solidarity. Jolly (2015) observes that sometimes adults are concerned that children may abuse their knowledge of child rights and manipulate adults to do what they want. Therefore it is important for parents and teachers to have sufficient knowledge of child rights (see also UNICEF, 2014).
When they removed the basketball fields I sent a letter and a month later they reinstalled a basketball playground.”
- Boy, Belgium (UNICEF, 2014, p125)
Finally, ‘the roots of the CRE Tree’ (commitment to child rights, equity, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, accountability and flexibility) provide a reminder of the foundations needed in the development of CRE projects and programmes (UNICEF, 2014).

Rights Respecting School Award (UK) 

Because the RRS approach in the UK is the most extensive to date, the UNICEF UK RRSA will be used as a case study to illustrate the development of such programmes. It should be noted that this is just one of many possible ways to implement the RRS approach. Furthermore, it is adapted to the British context and, more specifically, to the British educational culture. As Werhnam (2015) notes, an ‘award’ scheme might not necessarily be relevant or appropriate in other contexts. 
The UNICEF UK RRSA recognises schools’ achievements after proving that they teach about, respect and put children’s rights into practice. There are three phases in the process to receive an award: Recognition of Commitment, obtaining level 1 and obtaining level 2 (UNICEF United Kingdom, 2015).
Each phase is evaluated. This can be by email for the Recognition of Commitment or an assessment visit by a UNICEF UK RRSA delegate. Based on the assessments, UNICEF will decide whether a school can go to the next level and receive the award of Rights Respecting School. Schools use many different evaluation tools to prepare the assessment and each school has a professional advisor who can be reached by phone or email or who can be asked to do a support visit. Schools are very well aware of what is expected for the assessment and are informed about how the assessment visit will go. When a school does not pass the assessment, they are guided on how to meet the standards (Jolly, 2015; UNICEF United Kingdom, 2015; Wernham, 2015).
The first phase ‘Recognition of Commitment’ involves an official engagement of the head teacher to become a rights respecting school. This support of the senior managers of the schools is emphasised in every assessment report because it is an important factor in the sustainability of the programme. The school has to develop a strategy on how they intend to become a rights respecting school. They have to show that every actor in and around the school will cooperate (Jolly, 2015; UNICEF United Kingdom, 2015; Wernham, 2015).
UNICEF UK provides guidance for schools on their website for each phase of the process. First of all they suggest creating a steering group in which each group of actors is represented. Schools report that children are very eager to be part of this group. In some schools the meeting is a part of the timetabled curriculum. Parents are also involved and because of this they are better informed and are able to support the steering group. Secondly, they propose to do an audit on the vision and thoughts of children and adults regarding the programme and they plan what they need to do. Thirdly children, parents and the different involved councils should be given the opportunity to learn about the CRC. Finally they suggest including the RRSA programme in school planning (Jolly, 2015; UNICEF United Kingdom, 2015; Wernham, 2015).
The second and third phases (levels 1 and 2) are similar. The aim is to execute the action plan that is developed during the Recognition of Commitment phase in order to reach the four standards of the RRSA:
  1. Rights-respecting values underpin leadership and management
  2. The entire school community learns about the CRC
  3. The school has a rights-respecting ethos
  4. Children are empowered to become active citizens and learners. 
Each standard has criteria that need to be fulfilled. The criteria of level one are less extensive than those of level two. Obtaining level 1 means that the school is doing a good job in achieving the award, but there is still some work to be done. Schools that fulfil the level 2 criteria achieve an award that is valid for three years. After this time an assessor from UNICEF UK will do a new assessment in the school. Again, the success of the programme is not measured solely by whether each criterion has been met, but also in the degree to which evaluators consider that the whole school community has been engaged in the process (the ‘participatory journey’) (UNICEF United Kingdom, 2015; Wernham, 2015).
As mentioned in the general RRSA vision it is important to implement the programme in the classroom. This is sometimes difficult for teachers. Therefore the management should provide a few guidelines to help them. To start with, a teacher might consider doing a few stand-alone lessons on child rights. After this, literature and other courses can be linked to the topic. For example, environmental topics are easy to connect with child rights. Besides this, it is interesting to reflect with children on their own situation and on the situation of peers in the world. Furthermore, child rights can easily be connected to NGO campaigns on different topics such as fair trade. Children can also develop campaigns for child rights by creating posters about the rights that matter most to them in their own environment (Jolly, 2015).


Evidence regarding the effect of the RRSA programme is gathered through questionnaires, discussions with pupils, visitor comments from, pupil work, discussions with staff, observations and assessments. Jolly (2014) has found that children tend to be more engaged in school and achieve better academic results because of an improved learning atmosphere.  Children learn that they have rights and are aware of the fact that they respect others’ rights as well. Furthermore, children should have ownership of their learning, thereby making them more motivated. In addition, there are fewer cases of bullying and anti-social behaviour as children have more respect for themselves and others. Children learn to express themselves and learn to talk, for example, about their learning. Also teachers tend to be more satisfied in their work. Their active engagement in this programme is transferred to other educational areas. In general participating schools develop a better school climate and better relationships with and between students, teachers, parents and the wider community (see also UNICEF, 2014).


The UNICEF whole school approach to child rights education, of which rights respecting schools in general, and the UK RRSA programme in particular,  are examples, is a promising practice because it provides a holistic framework to implement the CRC not only in the school curriculum but in the mind-set and daily practice of the entire school community. The approach transforms relationships between children, parents and teachers to become rights respecting: stakeholders understand their own rights and respect the rights of others. The framework provides guidance for countries to develop their own programmes whilst allowing the flexibility for adaptation to local contexts and settings. Furthermore, in some countries, such as Scotland (see related case study on Scotland’s Getting It Right for Every Child), the project fits well with national educational priorities. The approach has great potential for replication internationally, improving school outcomes and changing attitudes towards children’s rights for the better, with a view to making the provisions and principles of the CRC a reality for millions of children worldwide (Jolly, 2015; UNICEF, 2014; Wernham, 2015).
After 16 years as a head teacher I cannot think of anything else that we have introduced that has had such an impact.
- UK principal (UNICEF, 2014, p73)


Jolly, M. (2015, September 3). Case Study Rights Respecting Schools (Questionnaire).
UNICEF. (2014). Child Rights Education Toolkit: Rooting Child Rights in Early Childhood Education, Primary and Secondary Schools.  UNICEF. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from:
UNICEF United Kingdom. (2015). Right Respecting Schools. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from
Wernham, M. (2015, August 19). Case Study Rights Respecting Schools (Personal Interview).
 Fig. 1. Child Rights Education Tree