Rights respecting framework guides ethical values focus

Jun 6, 2023

Earlier this year, Tanglin Trust School were delighted to be presented with two 2023 International School Awards: the award for best Ethical Values Education and the International School of the Year Award. Peter O'Brien talks about the school's initiative here.

Rights respecting framework guides ethical values focus

Jun 6, 2023 | ISL Magazine, Leadership, Teaching & learning, Wellbeing

By Peter O’Brien

Earlier this year, Tanglin Trust School were delighted to be presented with two 2023 International School Awards: the award for best Ethical Values Education and the International School of the Year Award.

We received the ethical values award for our work which enabled us to become the first school outside the UK to receive the Gold UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools Award (RRSA). The RRSA is a moral framework based on the 54 articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which aims to embed children’s human rights into a school’s ethos and culture. The RRSA is based on the principles of equality, dignity, respect, non-discrimination and participation. Our students are taught these values through a variety of platforms that have been embedded throughout the curriculum.

There are three stages to becoming a gold accredited school:

  1. Bronze Award: Rights Committed
  2. Silver Award: Rights Aware
  3. Gold Award: Rights Respecting

Our RRSA journey began in 2017 and we are currently about to go through gold reaccreditation. There were some key components that made this initiative a success.

The Rights Respecting Schools Award is an excellent framework to enhance the pastoral care we provide our children.

A culture for new thinking and growing new leaders

The initiative came about through Tanglin’s commitment to growing future leaders as part of our succession planning strategy. As a junior school, we have temporary positions of responsibility that allow staff to gain experience in implementing change. These ‘project points’ play an important role in facilitating professional growth whilst making a significant impact on Tanglin’s strategic aims. All project point holders have a senior leader as their line manager and meet frequently to support the implementation of their project through coaching or mentoring and dedicated time and resources.

Engaging the school community

A steering group of adults, including a senior leader and heads of curriculum, was formed. This group became the key advocates for delivering the vision of a Rights Respecting culture. The vision was communicated in multiple ways to reach as wide an audience as possible. Staff meetings, staff briefings, parent information evenings and pastoral lessons enabled a consistent use of terms to be introduced such as ‘rights holders’ (all children are entitled to rights and respect the rights of others) and ‘duty bearers’ (all adults who have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the rights holders).

As there are 52 articles for the children to understand, the aesthetics around the school played an important role to build familiarity. To achieve this, the Head of Art’s expertise was drawn upon and individual articles were displayed on every classroom door and all through the stairwells. Articles were linked to topics, classroom displays and amenities around the school. For example, signs highlighting Article 24 – ‘All children have the right to the best health care possible, clean water, nutritious food and a safe and clean environment’ – were placed near the school health centres, by water fountains and in the canteen. The articles and key terminology were also added to school diaries so they could be referenced by parents as part of home-learning tasks.

Sustaining a rights respecting culture

To make the initiative long-lasting, we looked at ways that we could promote, educate and celebrate the fact that we are a Rights Respecting school. Our Head of Library worked with UNICEF and leading publishers to build a library collection of over 500 books dedicated to children’s rights. In a series of lessons, children learn about a particular right and borrow books to read at home. Each book is labelled so that the children can relate the right to the stories easily.

Our Head of LifeSkills (pastoral curriculum) was another key advocate for the initiative. They incorporated the RRSA content into our pastoral curriculum and included an RRSA focus as part of our annual LifeSkills Day. LifeSkills Day is at the start of each academic year and aims to engage the children with some of our key pastoral initiatives which now include being Rights Respecting. Finally, we have recently completed the redesign of our junior school playground which is inspired by the convention of the rights of the child.

Engaging student voice

Article 12 is ‘All children have the right to say what they think and have their views taken seriously’, so student voice has been at the forefront of the RRSA initiative. A student-led steering committee was formed to discuss and share ideas on how best to raise the profile of RRSA and what this would look like in terms of lessons, displays, language used around the school, and our playground. Children also designed and led assemblies focused on world events so that World Refugee Day and International Day of People with Disabilities were introduced into our assembly curriculum.

To demonstrate that student voice is taken seriously in the junior school, every child has a position of responsibility within the school and is appointed an adult who they meet with regularly to provide feedback and look at ways to grow their role.

As a school, we are incredibly proud of the pastoral care that we provide for our children and the RRSA is an excellent framework to enhance what we already do. The feedback that we receive from all of our stakeholders is immensely positive. Through the award, we are able to distribute leadership to more staff and offer collaborative opportunities for our leaders with child-centred outcomes. Those outcomes have meant that there are many meaningful learning opportunities that spark interest in global issues and, most importantly, empower children to enjoy and exercise their rights, lead happy, healthy lives and be responsible, active citizens.

Implementing a new whole school initiative

  • Reflect on how your current leadership structure allows for staff to innovate, implement change and achieve the school’s strategic aims. Short-term project points have been key for us for growing future leaders.
  • How will the vision for the initiative be shared? How does it link to the school’s core values and strategic aims? Ensuring that the outcomes for the children are made clear will encourage support from colleagues, children and parents.
  • When building an adult steering group, try to include leaders of subjects that can drive the initiative in their specialism and bring expertise of implementing change in a manageable way for staff.
  • Look at how student leadership could be enhanced through the initiative. How are students’ views heard and acted upon?
  • Look at opportunities that will make the initiative long-lasting. For our initiative, we have it included in our annual LifeSkills Day, a dedicated collection in our school library and a playground inspired by the rights of the child.

Peter O'Brien

Peter O’Brien is the Deputy Head Pastoral for the Junior School at Tanglin Trust School, Singapore. Connect with Peter on LinkedIn


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This article was published in International School Leader Magazine

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