The Government is reviewing the purpose of education in a new bill called the Education Update Bill. It is supposed to be a big inspirational rethink but there’s something missing: they have forgotten to ask the people at the centre, the children themselves.
The United Nations have more than once told the Government that they have an obligation to consult properly with children on legislation and policy that affects them. The views of children on the purposes of education are critical.
Children have knowledge and insight into what good teaching is, what they need to learn and what they want to achieve through education. They know that a broad, creative curriculum is better for them and that safe schools without any form of bullying are a necessity if kids are going to learn. They tell us that their cultures and languages are central to their education. But the Government does not want to hear any of that.
A big reason we should listen to the children is that so often they tell us tough things we really need to hear. For instance, the recent revelations around the use of seclusion rooms came to light when children told their families some frightening stories. One family that came to the Select Committee on the Bill told a heartbreaking account about the abuse of their child in a store cupboard and a cover up from both the school and the Minister.
What would make the Bill better? Well, for starters it could enshrine the UN Conventions on Children’s rights, disabled rights, and indigenous rights as part of the law. The seclusion room fiasco is instructive on this point. Although seclusion rooms will be banned through the Bill, the guidelines which are supposed to manage physical restraint still rely on the professional judgement of teachers who have had no training or professional support to deal with the diversity of learning support needs.
That family who submitted can have no confidence in these guidelines without a culture change based on understanding inclusion and child rights. That’s what the UN conventions are about. I am with them and believe we should change this Bill now to support all children. It could be something we could all be proud of if we simply listened to them.
The government needs to press pause on the Education Update Bill, stop talking and start listening to the kids.