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16 January, 2015

Pupils lack human rights understanding as a third of teachers feel ill-equipped to teach it, says new poll

A poll commissioned by Amnesty International and teachers' magazine TES has found that one in three teachers (32.9 per cent) does not feel equipped to teach human rights. Nearly half (47.4 per cent) think their pupils do not understand the concept of human rights.

The survey also found that 46 per cent of children are unaware of their own human rights.

The TES-Amnesty survey was commissioned ahead of Amnesty's Youth Awards, to assess how well human rights is understood in British schools and the level of commitment to it. It reveals a patchy level of confidence in teaching human rights and a varied degree of knowledge among students.

These findings are concerning but hardly surprising. Although 'human rights' is on the statutory citizenship curriculum, it is only explicit at key stage 4; key stage 3 requires students to learn about 'precious liberties' but not 'human rights'.

On top of that, about half of schools - that is, free schools and academies - are exempt from teaching the citizenship curriculum; and primary schools don't have one to teach in the first place.

TES editor Ann Mroz said:

'At a time of heightened interest in human rights it is fascinating that teachers feel there is much work to be done in this area in schools and in curriculum terms. As we look towards the anniversary of Magna Carta this year, it is surely good news that teachers believe teaching human rights is so important.'

Amnesty International’s Youth Awards Project Manager, Alice Edwards, said:

'These findings are a concern. Imagine if we were talking about English, Maths or Science? Human Rights are principles upon which we rely on a daily basis. But at Amnesty we know it's not always easy for teachers to find the space for human rights education in schools. That's why we do everything we can to produce relevant, enriching curriculum linked resources to support teachers in engaging their students.'

Amnesty International spoke to a few of its student members to ask whether they agreed with these findings and what their peers thought of human rights. Seventeen-year-old Rona Hardie said:

'Unfortunately there is a stigma that surrounds standing up for human rights amongst most teenagers I know. But on the other hand there is a basic understanding of what it means to have a human right and why it is important.'

Lizzie Wood, also 17, of Berkhamsted School, added:

'The idea of ‘human rights’ is thrown about a lot, but not many question what it actually means. To many, it is a convenient excuse. People know they have rights, but not what exactly they are, or what impact not having rights would have.

'In a society, and in a privileged corner of England, human rights are not discussed because they are never truly denied. When not personally affected, I find that global issues only go skin deep. Human rights are not a problem for the lucky few and therefore unworthy of attention. Like so many other commodities, we have taken them for granted.'

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