All children and young people in the UK have certain rights by law. There are several different types of laws:
- Laws about schools and education
- Equality laws
- The UN convention on the rights of the child
Schools and the law
There are a lot of laws about what schools must provide. Here are some of the main ones that affect your rights.
You have a right to a school place.
Education is compulsory in the UK and all children and young people between the ages of 5 and 16 have a right to a school place. This does not mean that you have a right to go to a particular school, for example if the school you choose is full up, but the local authority where you live must offer you a school place.
It is expected that you will go to school unless you are ill. If you do not attend school your parents or carers may be prosecuted and have to pay a fine. The school may also fine parents or carers who take their children on holiday or to visit relatives during term time.
You have a right to be protected from harm.
By law schools must protect children and young people from harm, for example:
- schools must protect children and young people from bullying (Schools and Inspection Act 2006)
- school staff must provide a safe environment where children and young people can learn
- schools must take action if they think a child or young person under the age of 18 is being abused or neglected (Working together to safeguard children statutory guidance 2013).
Your parents or carers have a right to withdraw you from assembly or religious education.
All schools are legally required to teach religious education (RE), which usually includes education about a range of religions and beliefs, and an assembly every day, which is usually a Christian assembly, although assemblies in some schools are more inclusive of religions and beliefs other than Christianity. Your parents have a right to withdraw you from assembly or from RE, or both. If you are over 16 you have the right to withdraw from assembly or RE.
If you don’t think your rights are being properly considered you are advised to discuss this with your parents or carers and with the school.
The Equality Act 2010 says that schools are not allowed to discriminate against children and young people because of their:
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
- or because they are pregnant or undergoing gender reassignment.
This means that schools must not treat you worse than other people for any of these reasons. This includes all aspects of school life, for example:
- school places: for example a school cannot refuse to admit a young person because they are disabled
- teaching and learning: for example a school cannot refuse to let a young person study a certain subject because they are a boy or a girl
- out-of-school activities: for example a school cannot refuse to take a child on a trip because they are disabled
- protection from bullying: for example schools must protect young people who are being bullied, including bullying that is racist, homophobic, transphobic or related to a person’s religion or belief or their disability
- rewards and sanctions: schools must make sure they are being fair in how they give out rewards and how they treat people who have behaved badly.
Schools are also not allowed to discriminate against you because of the disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender identity of a family member. For example it would be illegal for a school to refuse to give a child a place because their parents are gay.
Schools are required by law (the Public Sector Equality Duty) to pay attention to the importance of:
- not discriminating against pupils, parents, teachers or community members
- promoting equality of opportunity and being fair to everyone
- encouraging good relations between different groups of people, e.g. people of different races, religions and beliefs, men and women, disabled and non-disabled people, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people and straight people.
The Equality Act 2010 does not only apply to schools. If you or your parents or carers are being discriminated against or harassed outside school that is illegal. Discrimination includes:
- employment (treating people fairly at work or when they apply for a job), and
- service provision (treating people fairly when they use a service, e.g. shops, healthcare, housing)
Harassment is when someone is treated badly, for example bullied, threatened, abused or attacked. If you or your family are abused or attacked because of your race, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation or because you are transgender, that is considered a hate crime and treated very seriously by the police.
The UN convention on the rights of the child
The UN convention on the rights of the child is an international agreement signed by almost all UN countries, including the UK. Under this convention everyone under the age of 18 has a lot of important rights, including:
The right to have their views respected (Article 12)
Every child has the right to say what they think in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously.
The right to freedom of expression (Article 13)
Every child must be free to say what they think and to seek and receive information of any kind as long as it is within the law.
The right to freedom of thought, belief and religion (Article 14)
Every child has the right to think and believe what they want and also to practise their religion, as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights.
The rights of refugee children (Article 22)
If a child is a refugee or seeking refuge, governments must ensure that they have the same rights as any other child.
The rights of disabled children (Article 23)
A disabled child has the right to live a full and decent life in conditions that promote dignity, independence and an active role in the community.
The right to education (Article 28)
Every child has the right to an education. Discipline in schools must respect children’s human dignity.
The goals of education (Article 29)
Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full. It must encourage the child’s respect for human rights, as well as respect for their parents’, their own and other cultures, and the environment.
The rights of children of minorities (Article 30)
Every child has the right to learn and use the language, customs and religion of their family, whether or not these are shared by the majority of the people in the country where they live, as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights.