Human rights education, trainings and awareness raising – UK Government assessment
While the introduction of compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE) may create further opportunities for schools to teach children about human rights, the RSE curriculum does not require specific teaching on human rights. Teachers lack knowledge about human rights, and most children in England are still unable to access a rights-based education. In addition, the UK Government has failed to adequately raise awareness of human rights or provide training for public officials.
- The new relationships education (RelEd), relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education (HE) curriculum in England includes teaching on tolerance of other people’s beliefs, how stereotypes can be damaging, and the legal rights and responsibilities regarding equality, with reference to protected characteristics. However, teachers have discretion in how they implement aspects of the guidance, including whether to use a rights-based approach. This would involve teaching children about rights in a way that helps them claim and exercise their rights. Primary teachers have discretion over whether to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) content as part of RelEd. This discretionary approach means that, without sufficient training or support for teachers, children risk completing their studies with very limited knowledge of their rights.
- Evidence suggests low levels of awareness of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child among teachers, and that teachers are hesitant to cover human rights due to misconceptions, including that such topics are too controversial or abstract. The Department for Education’s Initial Teacher Training Core Content Framework, which must be incorporated in all initial teacher training courses, does not include any specific reference to equality and human rights.
- There are concerns that the curriculum does not adequately reflect the history and experiences of ethnic minorities. Although in key stage 3 history there is a mandatory theme on Britain’s colonial history, teachers have discretion over what topics they cover within this theme, which may lead to significant variation between schools.
- Citizenship education is compulsory in maintained secondary schools in England, but not in primary schools or academies. The curriculum states that teaching should cover the diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK, and develop pupils’ understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens. However, the House of Lords Citizenship and Civic Engagement Committee has criticised the UK Government for allowing ‘citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state’.
- Despite recommendations from UN treaty bodies that public officials should be specifically trained on equality and human rights, there have been no significant efforts by the UK Government to develop, encourage or deliver targeted training. Though some public bodies provide staff training on human rights, including the College of Policing and the Care Quality Commission, no central UK Government provision exists.
- Research shows that a high percentage of the public are sceptical towards, or lack knowledge about, human rights. In 2018, the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights reported that human rights were frequently misrepresented negatively in the media and urged the UK Government to do more to engage with the public on human rights.
- Survey results from 2018 show that 43% of respondents in Britain know very little or nothing at all about human rights, and that 30% say that laws protecting human rights make no difference to their lives.
Read more about the UK Government’s actions on human rights education, trainings and awareness raising.