Monday, 15 June 2015

Rights and Responsibilities

800 years ago, today, a truly historical act took place. For the first time ever in history, a group of (for the time) relatively ordinary people held the king to account and limited his power over ordinary people.

The Magna Carta, which is Latin for the 'Great Charter' (not too inspiring or original a title, I know, but hey, it was 800 years ago!) was put to King John of England by a group of Barons and churchmen to be signed. 

You could say that if he hadn't, then he probably would not have lived much longer, but to sign a document promising to limit his own powers was a genuinely historical moment. Up to that point in history, the ruler was considered untouchable - they could have whatever they wanted and frequently saw the people in their country as simply playthings, there to provide whatever the ruler wanted.

The Magna Carta put limits on that. And they were limits that, on the whole, still stand today. The Magna Carta was a promise that:

  • The rights of the church would be protected,
  • People would not be imprisoned illegally, for no reason,
  • People would receive swift justice, rather than sit in prison without end waiting for a trial,
  • There would be limits on the amount of taxes the monarch could impose.

The Magna Carta, the meeting near Windsor, 800 years ago today, is a moment in history and a document that makes History important. This document had a huge impact then, and throughout history. Your lives are different because of it.

The Magna Carta failed, as the King tried to carry on his life as if it never mattered. However, this triggered wars and a new Manga Carta was renewed a couple of years later and since then has held those in power to account for how they treat ordinary people.

The Magna Carta became the starting point on which our entire legal system is based, and in the 18th Century, when the new colonies in America were shaping their independence, the  Magna Carta was used as the basis for their constitution - the Magna Carta, therefore, shaped the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.

A group of people who were not happy with the way they were being treated held a king to account 800 years ago and changed the face of human civilisation forever!

And you wonder why I frequently say that you hold enormous power in your futures - who knows what you are capable of doing ,if only you have the conviction to do it…

Today, we have a universal bill of human rights, a document that most of the world subscribe to; the following is a list of substantive rights:

  • The right to life - no human should be deprived of this right …
  • Freedom from torture
  • Freedom from slavery
  • The right to a fair trial
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of thought
  • Freedom of movement

They are not that different from the Magna Carta!

And in school? Well, we have our code of conduct. This sets out the conditions we feel everyone in the school should aspire to & how we should behave.

In principle, it is our bill of rights, our Magna Carta.

You have the right to come to school, without fear of being intimidated or picked on.

You have the right to come to school and learn; to have the opportunities to aspire to be your best.

From the code of conduct:

All students are expected to treat all other students with the same respect they would like others to show them.
Students will be expected to accept others for who they are, not seek to limit, put down or control others through intimidation, harassment or bullying. Any student who engages in this sort of behaviour will be dealt with most severely, through the school’s behaviour protocols. Students who believe that this sort of behaviour is perfectly acceptable are not welcome at Sandymoor School and persistent or significant behaviour of this sort will result in a student being asked to leave.
This includes actions and behaviour that occur outside of school.

You have the right to your own opinion, to have your own thoughts and vocalise them, but in the context of not limiting another person's rights.

And that is where things get tricky; you have a set of rights, we all have a set of rights, but one right we all have is the right to be ourselves, be who we want to be, without fear of intimidation or discrimination.

That means we also have responsibilities; and the primary responsibility is to support and defend the rights of others. To not behave in such a way that the rights of another are limited or reduced.

And that is why the code of conduct goes on to say:

Students who experience this sort of negative, harmful, damaging behaviour need to understand that the school does not tolerate it and as soon as it is reported it will be dealt with and the victim will be protected from further harm. This is not ‘grassing’ but is shining a light on unacceptable behaviour, exposing the bully to the light.
Students who witness or support those who feel it is acceptable to behave in such ways and who do not report it are just as responsible as the one carrying out the bullying & can expect the same level of punishment. To see something ‘wrong’ happen and not act is to accept the wrong behaviour.
There is the underlying assumption that all students will want to make the most of the opportunities provided by the school to grow and develop themselves. Therefore all students will be expected to strive to participate in lessons and activities that others have spent time and effort designing.
Within that context, we have a group of students who are expected to uphold these rights. They have the responsibility to lead by example and not to limit others.

And to not abuse the power they have through their position. King John, 800 years ago, learnt what happened when he tried to abuse his power.

The student Prefect Team are here to support the school, to strive to help other students experience the best the school can be and to support the staff in providing an environment where everyone can feel safe.

The Head Boys & Head Girls are expected to be examples of this, to strive to be the best they can be. They are supported by the prefect team; they perform duties around school, most importantly they are there to hold other students to account when behaviour falls below our expectations. As I have said before, they do their duties under my authority, so when they ask another student to stop doing something, they are doing it as if it were me doing it. I hold them to high standards, however, and if they act in a way that is less than I would expect, then they can expect to be told so by me.

We also have a team of students who take on responsibility in the house system. You are all in a house and have a responsibility to help your house be the best it can be. The House Captains will work to support the House staff in organising house events, arranging inter-house competitions, etc.

And we have our Microsoft Student Ambassadors. These students have been working hard to support the ICT in school and are rolling out initiatives to help this further.

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