One of the quieter events in Scotland this year has been the incorporation of the United Nations Convention of the Right of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots Law.
This landmark moment was a significant development in Scotland as Article 31 of the Convention gives young people the right to rest, play and to have the chance to join a wide range of activities. The Scottish Government has also stated that a children’s rights approach is embedded in their Covid recovery programme .
To celebrate this, let’s give Scotland’s children the summer holiday they deserve, a summer of fun, and urge the Scottish Government to issue every under-18 in Scotland a set of vouchers to enjoy their summer: a book token, a cinema token, a tourist attraction token, a toy token and a leisure centre token. Each worth £10. However, this is not solely about celebration.
Narratives surrounding the role of Scotland’s young people in covid recovery has been constructed in terms of “catching-up”. But, catching up with what? This vague notion has generated strong opinions and it has become synonymous with schools. Even then, the parameters of what to “catch up” on are vague.
Teachers, such as myself, have a vested interest in the centrality of young people to Scotland’s covid recovery. Rest assured, students (supported by their schools, teachers, peers and parents/carers) are indeed peddling furiously to “catch up” in school. Senior students are catching up by completing a series of assessments to meet the standards laid out by the SQA. BGE students are catching up by not only reviewing lockdown learning but laying the foundations for their learning next year. As are their primary school peers. Through their continued hard work Scotland’s young people will catch-up at school. To use that terrible assembly cliché “it is a marathon, not a sprint!”
There is another type of catching up. Classroom teaching’s return has also meant the return of real-life conversation with students. Conversations establishing our young people as social individuals, consumers of culture and active people. They love doing “stuff” and the pandemic has forced them to miss out on the incredible social, cultural and sporting opportunities offered in Scotland. Perhaps, the notion of “catching up” needs to be widened and let Scotland’s young people catch up on their cultural, social and sporting lives.
The well documented impact of lockdowns on the mental health and wellbeing of our young people shows that worries over school-work alongside feelings of loneliness and, in the case of pre-school children, a lack of communication with others from outside their households are potentially detrimental to their future.
A Scottish Government report in September 2020 into the impact on the mental health of children emphasised the need to support socialisation, cope with anxieties created by the pandemic and the importance of outdoor play in particular for younger children’s mental wellbeing. The report continues to say that routine and structure helped to support young people .
During term-time the schools are able to provide this structure to support wellbeing and mental health. However, the most organised parent or carer will tell you, filling six weeks of a summer holiday is a huge undertaking. A helping hand in the form of holiday vouchers would play a small part in providing that essential structure needed to support good mental health and wellbeing.
The pandemic’s financial impact cannot be ignored. Pay has fallen in real terms for some and this has most affected the lowest paid. A reduced income and travel restrictions, means that Summer 2021 will be the summer of the staycation. While some may welcome the need to not travel it creates a daunting financial prospect for many.
A quick survey of my Advanced Higher students’ idea of a good day out revealed that a cinema trip would cost £5 – £8, Foxlake would be £17.06 and East Links Family Park £7.50 – £15. Each. My more traditional (and rejected) suggestions of a swim session and a trip to Edinburgh Castle would cost £3 and £9.30 respectively. After factoring in transport and treats it all adds up: summer is expensive. With some extra support families would be able to provide structure to their children’s summer without the financial worry.
Underlying this voucher scheme is a belief that our young people deserve a break -they’ve missed out on nearly 18 months of being allowed to be children. Let’s celebrate their new-found rights and provide them with the means to do so.
Kate Cuddihy is a secondary school teacher in East Lothian, and has an interest in children’s rights.