New support for teachers to help pupils manage emotions and have their voices heard when parents separate

Professor Barlow and Dr Ewing’s research, funded by the University of Exeter’s Wellcome Centre, shows a strong appetite amongst young people for information on their rights and the support available when parents separate to be taught in schools.

Experts have designed new lesson plans to help pupils manage the emotions they may feel when parents separate and ensure their voices are heard during this difficult time.

The new resources, ‘The Rights Idea?‘ are designed to help schools sensitively tackle parental separation as part of the PSHE and Citizenship curriculum. They have been produced by Professor. Anne Barlow and Dr Jan Ewing at the University of Exeter Law School in collaboration with The National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC); leading national charities working with families and children when parents separate.

Professor Barlow and Dr Ewing’s research, funded by the University of Exeter’s Wellcome Centre, shows a strong appetite amongst young people for information on their rights and the support available when parents separate to be taught in schools.

The free lesson plans, for Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 pupils, are the only resources to have been awarded the prestigious dual Quality Mark approval by the PSHE Association and the Association of Citizenship Training. They support the statutory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum in PSHE, the national curriculum obligation to teach about rights and human rights and the requirements of GCSE Citizenship Studies.

The resources are built around a short animation and infographic. The animation follows the separation journeys of two families, narrated by Tom, the fourteen-year-old son from one of the families. It explores young people’s rights to information, consultation and (where needed) representation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) when parents separate. Told from the positive perspective of the present, in a safe and supportive environment, the video explores this emotive life process that many young people will experience.

In lesson one, pupils learn about their rights under the UNCRC, including their Article 12 right to have their voices heard on matters that affect them. Building on this, the second lesson helps teachers to explore with pupils, sensitively and in a non-stigmatising way, how their voices can be heard when their parents separate and the range of emotions they might feel and how to manage them. Pupils also learn about the sources of support available to them on parental separation.

Professor Barlow said: “Parental separation is experienced by many children. We know young people want good quality information, access to support and a voice in decision-making, and that they cope better when they are consulted. These lessons are designed to ensure that the sensitive topic of young people’s rights when parents separate are taught in a way that is universal and non-stigmatising.”

Dr Ewing said: “These resources inform young people about their rights under the UNCRC, including being able to express their opinion when important decisions are being made about their lives and for adults to take that opinion seriously. Pupils also learn about the sources of support available to them on parental separation. We hope that the resources will empower young people to exercise their rights or to support their peers when needed.”

Judith Timms OBE, NYAS Trustee, said: “The Rights Idea? breaks new ground in an under-explored area of the PSHE and Citizenship curriculum.”

Elizabeth Coe, CEO of NACCC, said: “The new RSE curriculum recognises the need for children to be prepared for the more difficult elements of relationships. The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) is proud to have worked with The National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and the University of Exeter on the ‘Rights Idea’. These innovative resources help children to normalise their feelings and understand their rights as their world changes around them when parents separate.”

PSHE Association Subject Specialist, Elizabeth Laming, said: “We are delighted to award the Quality Mark to ‘The Rights Idea?’, which explores the rights of young people, particularly in relation to when parents separate. The lessons include engaging and empowering activities that allow students to rehearse and develop key skills and attributes, such as help-seeking and building confidence, and equip students with meaningful strategies and skills that can make a positive difference to their lives, both now and in the future.”

Chief Executive of the Association for Citizenship Teaching, Liz Moorse, said: “We are delighted to Award ‘The Rights Idea?’ the ACT Quality Mark for Citizenship Teaching Resources. Our review panel found the lessons and resources should enrich conceptual understanding about rights and enable pupils to gain important skills. The resource takes an innovative approach to building knowledge about rights in the context of family separation and in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – a key area of both the National Curriculum Programme of Study for Citizenship and GCSE Citizenship Studies. The exploration of rights in the context of the issue of family separation is offered with guidance for teachers to support them in handling this complex area sensitively when teaching.”

The resources complement the University of Exeter’s Working out Relationships? free-to-access lesson pack designed to bust common myths about the ‘perfect relationship’ and manage young people’s relationship expectations. These materials also support the statutory RSE curriculum and have been awarded PSHE Association Quality Mark.

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