Classroom charters – are we getting it right?
Building the shared values of a Rights Respecting classroom
Classroom charters are very popular. The collaboration between children and adults in age and ability-appropriate ways to agree a charter for a Rights Respecting classroom has proved to be a very valuable part of the process of making the UNCRC a real and meaningful guide to action at a day-to-day level.
We have been reviewing their development and use with a range of practitioners and offer some reflections here.
What is a class charter?
Children and adults in a class or tutor group select those rights they agree are the most important in relation to what is done in that classroom. The process of developing a charter is as important as the end product. The process must be participatory, inclusive and build on the prior learning about the difference between wants and needs. How this might be done is explained on the following pages in greater detail.
For very young children rights may need to be reworded. As children move beyond their early years, they will learn that their rights under the UNCRC are based on their needs to thrive as human beings. These rights are to do with:
- their health and safety (survival)
- their protection from harm and abuse
- the development of their potential
- their inclusion and participation in the life of the society around them (immediately, locally and globally).
In learning that these rights are universal, children understand that this means that their rights are bound up in respecting the rights of others. Some like to refer to this reciprocity as rights and responsibilities. There is a danger, however, in that by just looking at this reciprocity the responsibilities of adults are left out.
Children also learn that adults, especially their parents/carers and policy makers, have the responsibility to ensure that these rights are known about, promoted and respected by all. So the charter for a Rights Respecting classroom is for all, including adults.
The end product itself is always subject to review by the class from time to time in order to reinforce/refresh commitment. It helps if the charter is therefore dated.
What is agreed is then set out in a way that can be easily seen around the room and signed-up to by all those participating.
What is the aim of a class charter?
A class charter is a way of making the rights of the child real and meaningful to pupils, based on their own situation and experiences. The process of developing the class charter can serve to unite the class. It develops a sense of ownership of the classroom and learning. Once developed, the charter becomes a point of reference for the class and once signed by both the teacher, assistants and the pupils it signifies a shared enterprise and acts as the social glue which binds everyone together. We would recommend that children also have a say in how it is displayed.
In what way is it different from golden rules or codes of behaviour?
The class charter is not a direct behaviour management tool. It is indicating that a significant part of the role of the school and the teacher is to help realise the rights of the child. Rules are something which are often externally imposed, whereas charters are democratically negotiated using an internationally agreed values framework. It should begin a process of replacing rules.
“We used to have rules that you made and we often broke. Now we’ve got responsibility and we have to choose, there’s no-one else to blame but me. It’s my responsibility to make the right choice!”
(Year 4 child)
How do you approach the linking of rights with responsibilities?
The main point to remember is that the rights of the child are not conditional on responsibilities. Rights do imply, but are independent of responsibilities.
A right cannot be withdrawn as a punishment but what can be withdrawn is the opportunity to infringe other people’s rights.
Adults working with children need to model Rights Respecting behaviour and use Rights Respecting language in order to reinforce the benefits of this values system.
A child needs to see and hear how rights abusing/denying behaviour is identified by an adult and how the adult uses the language of rights to help a child understand how they have failed to respect the rights of others and how this choice has negative consequences. This will help the children themselves become empowered by the language and concepts they acquire from this Rights Respecting culture. This reasoning may still lead to a child being removed from their classroom to have their right to education experienced alone or in a different setting, but the rationale is clearly rooted in the Rights Respecting framework. Pupils who may end up excluded from school still have the same right to education as children in school. Under the Convention it is up to the state to organise this.
Do actions speak louder than responsibilities?
As children grow the charter should be rooted more in the Convention with pupils selecting the Articles that they consider are most appropriate to them. A common way is to have columns of rights and responsibilities.
In arriving at responsibilities it is not unusual for pupils to be unable to agree on one responsibility and where that is the case it is okay to have more than one responsibility allied to an agreed right.
An alternative is to set out the charter with rights but instead of using the term responsibilities, insert the phrase “actions (by children/adults) to ensure these rights are enjoyed by all”. It is still a charter for a Rights Respecting classroom.
Why do teachers and assistants sign the charter?
This is more than a symbolic gesture. It is about indicating to children that the whole experience of teaching and learning is a shared enterprise and will work best if we all keep to the class charter. It strengthens the relationship between children and adults.
Do charters vary with the age of children?
Yes, initially with very young children they may be very simple and use images instead of words or as well as. As children move into upper Key Stage 2 it would be more common for children to make more references to the Articles in the Convention.
In secondary schools, tutor groups/year groups can generate charters at the outset, depending on the extent of support from teachers and assistants. Due to the way most secondary schools are structured, however, they should look at ways of securing agreement to a charter to which all children, perhaps through their tutor groups, have been able to contribute and to which everyone agrees to sign. This can then be the point of reference for the whole school.
What is the best way to develop a class charter with pupils?
Sam Francis, Advanced Skills Teacher for Citizenship at Portway Junior School, outlines her approach:
- recap on the UNCRC
- consolidate why the Convention was agreed upon and why it exists, and the importance of children under 18 having rights. Extend to include the Human Declaration of Rights for adults and the similarities and differences
- pick the Articles, from the UNCRC, that specifically relate to the children’s lives in school (eg: Articles 3, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 37, 39) then get them to discuss how and why these relate to life in school
- diamond nine the children’s choices making sure they can justify their reasons. These have differed in each class depending on the cohort, ethnic backgrounds, etc
- the next task is to use the six most popular and reasoned Articles for the class charter, then the children need to identify the responsibilities that link with the six most popular Articles
- the next process is the agreement of wording and ownership by the class/ tutor group or school of the charter. Voting democratically about its design, placement within the school/class, signing of the charter and what role the teacher plays on the charter (responsibilities/rights/ signature, etc). Talk about any issues that the children have, eg: not signing, wording, what happens if new people arrive
- the wording on the charter should make a link to the UNCRC and each Article should have one main responsibility
- the next stage is to link the charter to rewards and sanctions, discussing and agreeing as a class how these link into the classroom
- it is important to revisit and tweak the charter as a class; which is a good exercise if new people join the class, good for circle time, and also helps with children settling into a new class/school.
- Teachers could also use the SEAL materials for support if needed.
- The children link Every child matters into their chosen Articles, discuss the importance and any specific links. (This can also be linked to any of the schools initiatives – Healthy Schools, Sustainable Environment, etc.)
Link to the citizenship objectives:
- research and debating issues/ events
- know why/how rules/laws are made
- discuss anti-social behaviour
- take part in making/changing rules
- different types of responsibilities
- resolving differences
- explaining choice.