As Children’s Commissioner for Wales my role is to help drive positive and long-lasting changes for children and young people in Wales. Listening to children and young people is an essential part of this work. Young people are the experts in their own lives and ensuring their important contribution is heard will always give us stronger policies and better outcomes. This was at the forefront of my mind when I brought a delegation of young people to join a meeting of the Independent Advisory Group to curriculum reform.
The young people that attended with me presented to the group about their ideas about what the new curriculum should include. They then engaged in a problem solving exercise to identify risks to the implementation of the new curriculum. The young people spoke with intelligence and passion about their ideas, “I would like a curriculum that identifies my talents and lets me develop confidence.”
They were honest, “If you think your teacher doesn’t like you, you don’t want to be there even if you love the subject.”
And they voiced some awkward truths, “loads of teachers hate Welsh Bacc.”
These young people wanted choice in their learning, they wanted the ability to pursue their talents and they were deeply thoughtful about the purpose of their learning and experiences, “the curriculum needs to balance who I am right now as well as who I want to be.”
There were also messages of frustration, “I want an education, not to learn exam techniques.”
And there were some worries, “I don’t want to be trapped in Wales.”
Decisions made about the new curriculum will have far-reaching impacts for children’s lives, and young people in Wales know this. Across the country, children and young people are taking curriculum reform very seriously: engaging in debates and discussions; creating videos and websites; holding votes and consultations. All children and young people, from the youngest to oldest, and across all educational settings, have a huge amount to offer in the process of curriculum development.
Another critical part of my role is to champion the rights of children and young people in Wales. I am a firm believer that taking a children’s rights approach to education will safeguard the long term needs of children and young people, and will help develop healthy and confident individuals who can learn and thrive. I am fortunate to visit many fantastic education settings in Wales that have embedded children’s rights in the child’s experience of education: children have ownership of their school and their learning; and they are part of the decision making that affects their lives.
One of the aims of our workshop for the Independent Advisory Groups to curriculum reform was to showcase how powerful taking a children’s rights approach can be and by enabling more children and young people to participate and take ownership of decision making, we can make sure there’s a real focus on their particular needs.
We are taking big decisions about education in Wales that will have huge impacts on the lives of children and young people. Children and young people have a right to be part of these decisions. We will make better decisions if we listen to the real experts in children’s experiences.
Professor Sally Holland is the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and a member of the Independent Advisory Group to Curriculum Reform
Sally was joined at the January meeting of the group by young people from Cardiff Youth Council, Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni and Risca Community Comprehensive School.
The Right Way: A Children’s Rights Approach to Education in Wales outlines the principles of a children’s rights approach in education and provides case studies of the inspiring rights based practice of schools in Wales.
The Children’s Commissioner’s paper, Human Rights Education in the New Curriculum explains how children’s rights can be articulated within the new curriculum for Wales.