Getting children’s views
Every child has the right to be involved and share their views in decisions about their additional support for learning.
In this section we’ll look at:
- the UNCRC and how these fundamental rights are embedded in Scots law
- specific rights of children aged 12-15
- getting the views of young people aged 16 and above
- top tips for working together with your learner and seeking their views.
Fundamental human rights
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out children’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. These fundamental human rights are:
- Universal – all children and young people under 18 have these rights
- Inalienable – these rights cannot be removed from children
- Indivisible – one right can’t be separated from another right, they are all important
- Interdependent – these rights depend on each other.
For example, all children have the right to an education (Article 28) which helps them fully develop their personalities, talents, mental and physical abilities (Article 29).
The UNCRC has been ratified by the UK since 1991. There are attempts underway to fully embed the UNCRC into Scots law. However, there are Scottish laws that already give effect to many of the rights under the UNCRC.
Children’s rights to express their views
Children and young people should be involved in any decisions affecting their learning and lives. Children and young people may hold the key to finding out what their needs are or to discovering what support will work best for them.
Article 12 of the UNCRC gives children the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them – including their education. Children’s views should be taken seriously, in line with their age and maturity.
The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 says that in carrying out their duty to provide school education, local authorities and schools must have ‘due regard, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the views (if there is a wish to express them) of the child or young person’ in decisions that significantly affect them.
The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, as amended (The ASL Act) also states local authorities and schools must seek and take account of learners’ views in specific situations. These are when:
Seeking children’s views
Seeking children and young people’s views normally happens in a fairly informal way, through you and others who work closely with them. It will also depend on the child’s age and maturity. For example, in nursery this may be done through observing their play and behaviour as a form of communication. At primary or high school, it may be sitting down with a learner and chatting about how they are feeling in an age appropriate way.
It can be helpful to pre-emptively reflect on any barriers a child or young person may face to sharing their views. Will the environment be quiet and private? Are you the right person to ask them these questions or is there another staff member they may feel more comfortable talking to? Do they know why you’re asking them these questions and what you’re going to do with their answers?
If a learner has complex communication needs, or their first language is not English, their views must still be sought. If you’re not sure how best to go about this, you can speak to your colleague with lead responsibility for additional support for learning.
The Children & Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland has 7 Golden rules for participation which includes downloadable symbol cards. These can help children understand their rights and share their views with you.
Children aged 12-15
Children with additional support needs who are aged 12-15 have extended rights under the ASL Act, to better reflect their maturing age. Between these ages learners can share a lot of the same rights as their parents or carers to be involved in decisions and take certain actions. For example, most children this age can ask for an assessment of their own additional support needs.
These learners can get help from a service called My Rights, My Say. The service can
- offer advice and information about their rights
- provide advocacy to support children to use their rights
- support professionals to gather children’s views.
My Rights My Say also have a eLearning course designed to help teachers reflect on and develop your knowledge and practice of listening to and involving children with additional support needs. You can register a new account for free on the Children in Scotland eLearning hub and the course takes around 25 minutes to complete.
Young people aged 16 and over
Once a learner turns 16, under education law they are no longer ‘a child’ — they are now a ‘young person’. Young people are assumed to be able to do things on their own behalf and be fully involved in decisions about their education and support.
Young people have the same rights that their parents or carers had before they turned 16. For example, a young person can make a placing request if they want to apply to move to a different school.
This means if you have concerns or need to review a young person’s support, in the first instance you should discuss this with them directly. If a more formal meeting is arranged, parents and carers are still normally invited. They can share their views and be there to support their child.
Involving children and young people in meetings
Regardless of their age, learners should be supported to attend and take part in meetings about their additional support for learning if they want to. This might include exploring options like if they want to come along for the start or end of a meeting to share their views, or if they want to stay for the whole meeting.
Children’s views can be sought in a variety of ways. They might be able to get support from an advocate to share their views with you in writing, or to accompany them to a meeting and speak on their behalf. Other learners may choose to tell their parent or carer how they’re feeling and ask them to speak for them. Others may want to record a short video or voice-note and send that in instead. You can suggest any of these options to your learner to help ensure they are given every opportunity to be involved.
Some children and young people may not want to attend more formal planning or review meetings. For example, if they are anxious and would find it too overwhelming to speak in front of a group of adults.
Seeking children’s views does not mean forcing them to attend meetings that they don’t want to attend. However, if a learner does not want to be at a meeting to discuss their own support, it’s important to reflect on why this might be. Are there changes you could make to address their concerns and make the meeting more child friendly and focused?
When people disagree
It can be tricky when you’ve listened to what your learner wants, and they want something different to what you believe they need or what their parents want to happen.
For example, a young person might tell you they are fine and don’t want any help, but their parents may feel strongly their child needs extra support in class. Where appropriate it can be helpful to discuss why everyone holds the views they do. For example, the young person may be struggling, but they are worried about standing out and their friends making fun of them. Taking this into account, you can explore what adjustments might help your learner while not making them feel singled out in class.
Ultimately, any decisions taken should be about what is in your learner’s best interests.
Behaviour is a form of communication – not all children can or will articulate their views and feelings verbally
It’s never too early! Involving children in decisions about their learning should start from nursery
Be aware of the number of adults in a meeting and how that can feel for a child or young person
Remember – My Rights, My Say and Enquire are here to help!
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