The coronavirus pandemic has been a health emergency for Scotland, but since schools first closed in March we’ve been clear it’s been an education emergency as well.
The closure of schools and cancellation of exams has caused unprecedented difficulties for younger people in our country. It’s been a human rights crisis in terms of education that’s led to other human rights crises as well.
A mental health crisis as children and young people struggle to cope with uncertainty.
A food crisis as children lose consistent access to free school meals.
And a crisis of inequality as digital exclusion increases the divide between rich and poor in access to educational opportunities.
It’s because of all these issues and more that the decisions adults make now will impact on children and young people for the rest of their lives.
Schools are not just places of education – they are places where children play, socialise, eat and access supports that keep them safe.
The decision to close them has impacted on a wide range of their rights, and the decision to reopen them must take all of these into account.
It’s essential that children and young people are at the centre of this decision-making process. We need a human rights-based approach to make sure this happens.
That’s one of the important messages for the Scottish Government’s Education Recovery Group (ERG) as we meet them this week to set out the ways the State must deliver on its human rights obligations to children and young people.
The decisions the ERG makes will play a large part in shaping how Scotland’s education system recovers as lockdown eases, but children and young people are not currently represented on the Group.
We’re calling on the Government to change this, so that the people most affected by these vital decisions are represented as they are made.
We want it to be clear that Scotland values the opinions and experiences of young people, and making this change would be a step towards making this happen.
But we have other calls for the Group as well. We’re also calling for support for children and young people as they go back to school: for measures that address the impact school closures have had socially, emotionally and on mental health.
We’ll be publishing our paper for the ERG after the meeting.
Rights: The minimum standards that children are promised
Realising the human rights of children and young people isn’t something for Scotland to aspire to.
Human rights are the minimum standards which all Scotland’s children and young people have been promised.
And ultimately it’s the responsibility of the State to keep these promises. In this case, that’s the Scottish Government.
And it can do this by making long-term plans, not short-term decisions.
It needs to give stronger guidance and more directed support to teachers and schools, and it needs to make sure that teachers and schools are provided with the resources they need to cope.
Children and young people need a say in their education
Children and young people have a right to a say in the matters that affect them, but that hasn’t happened enough throughout the education emergency.
In our evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee last week, we highlighted that they’ve been largely excluded from the discussions and decisions being made around their own education.
We know that education is most successful when children and young people are involved in shaping it. That doesn’t have to be complicated, and in lots of schools the tools to make it happen are already there.
It can involve contact with pupil councils, surveys on Google Classroom, and making sure there are conversations with children and young people who aren’t able to get online.
What we’re doing
We’re listening to children and young people
It’s vital that the experiences of children and young people are central to our work. To get a sense of what they’ve found most hard, we’ve been listening to them in a number of ways— through the significant work done by Members of Children’s Parliament, through surveys of thousands of children and young people across Scotland by the Scottish Youth Parliament and Children’s Parliament and through talking to them directly online.
We’re raising concern with those in power
We have been meeting with the Scottish Government and working with others throughout this crisis to raise our serious concern about the impact of coronavirus on children, particularly those who are disproportionately affected.
That includes those living in poverty, disabled children and those with additional support needs, black and minority ethnic children, care experienced children and children living in unsafe environments.
We’re finding out where the Scottish Government has to do more
In order for the Government to comply with its obligations in international and Scots law, it has to assess the impact of those decisions on children before making them.
But there hasn’t been enough work done on what that impact looks like.
So we’re working with the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland to conduct an Alternative Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, which we expect to publish in early July.
Adults in power often make decisions that affect people― such as laws and policies. When they do this, they don’t always think about the impact these decisions will have on children and young people.
A Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, or CRIA,is a way to include children and young people in a decision. It looks at the ways the decision might affect the rights of children and young people― both positively and negatively.
By doing this, it means people know what the effect of the decision on children and young people is likely to be.
More in the Rights questions and answers section
Although the Scottish Government has published Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments on some of the legislation passed around the pandemic, it is important that these assessments are done thoroughly and that they cover all law and policy that affects children.
In these exceptional circumstances, we think the Government needs some help to fulfil its obligations― and that there needs to be an independent assessment of what laws and policies around the coronavirus pandemic mean for children’s human rights in Scotland.