Solutions Not Sides – Human Rights Day Sessions

On Monday 29 November, to help them mark International Human Rights Day, Fifth Formers at St Paul’s were off timetable for the morning to participate in two workshops where they had the opportunity to learn about Human Rights in the specific context of the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict.

Our pupils were fortunate to partner with facilitators and speakers from Solutions Not Sides, an organisation that works with schools to tackle Antisemitism, Islamophobia and polarisation around the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UK.

Many of the resources used in the workshops were developed with the input of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as senior members of Jewish and Muslim communities.

It was important for us and the partner organisation that our pupils should acquire more than a superficial understanding of a very complex situation and that they should go into the live workshops with some the knowledge and sensitivity to engage meaningfully with speakers and material that might raise emotionally and politically sensitive questions for them.  To this end, all pupils in the 5th form had two teacher-led PSHE lessons to gain a detailed, non-partisan overview of the historical background and some of current issues shaping the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. They were asked to think about these in the wider context of Human Rights.

As one of the supervising teachers, I found the conversations on Monday both moving and humbling. There were good frameworks provided for open but safe discussion and exploration of this sensitive topic and the frank and knowledgeable responses from the speakers was an invaluable resource for our pupils. I was equally impressed by the ways our pupils engaged: they asked thoughtful, but searching, questions of the speakers and wanted to better understand what might be done to end the conflict and to preserve the dignity of life for all concerned.

The feedback from students suggested that they had acquired a more nuanced sense of the conflict and the importance of attending to lived, first-hand experience. As one student put it,

“I liked that we could ask questions from people on both sides who knew the situation and were living these experiences. I thought the answers were really honest”.

Thanks to Mr Powell, Mrs Mervis, and all the staff who gave time and resource to enable the workshops. It is our hope that this may be an annual opportunity we offer to every pupil in the Fifth Form.

Article by Dr Malcolm Cocks, Head of Inclusion and Teacher of English.