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Swede Offers Rights Solution To Indiscipline in Schools

Northern Ireland schools can improve their performance and cut indiscipline by putting respect for the rights of pupils and teachers at the heart of the classroom.

That is the message which Sweden's Director of Education, Gunilla Larsson, will deliver to a conference in Belfast tomorrow (Thursday 6 November) to be attended by the Northern Ireland Education Minister Caitríona Ruane.

Sweden has made human rights education a mainstream aspect of their school system and in recent years has seen dramatic improvements in classroom behaviour and academic performance. The country features in the top ten for pupils' academic performance in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's international comparison school league tables. In contrast, the UK has been slipping down the rankings in recent years.

Ms Larsson said:

"In Sweden we have placed human rights and democratic values at the heart of our school system. This means pupils are more empowered to shape their education and to stand up against problems such as bullying and classroom violence. A more respectful classroom means a more productive classroom and we believe our pupils and teachers benefit enormously from this human rights approach to education."

Sweden's Education Director will be addressing a conference, organised by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Ulster Teachers’ Union, Amnesty International, and the Northern Ireland and Irish Human Rights Commissions. The event focuses on mainstreaming human rights education in schools and will also be addressed by a senior representative of UNESCO as well as Caitríona Ruane.

Just last month the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the UK should do more to teach pupils about the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that human rights education should be used to address the problem of school bullying. A survey published last month showed that one in five P7 pupils in Northern Ireland had been physically bullied in school.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director for Amnesty International and one of the conference organisers, said:

"There is a growing body of evidence locally and internationally that bringing human rights education fully into the school environment, as they are doing in Sweden, can improve pupil behaviour and create an atmosphere of respect where academic performance can flourish. This is about the rights of Children's rights but it also makes common sense for everyone."

Avril Hall Callaghan, head of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said:

"Recent events at Movilla High School have starkly demonstrated the terrible impact on the school environment and on pupil learning when there is a breakdown of respect in the classroom. Getting human rights education right - as the UN has just told the Government - will be good for our Children's rights, good for our teachers and good for the economy."

What: Conference – "Mainstreaming human rights education in schools"

When: Thursday 6 November 10:30am - 4:15pm (Education Minister Caitríona Ruane will speak at 10:30am. Gunilla Larsson will speak at 3:15pm)

Where: Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast

Photographs available.

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