There are seven books in the Harry Potter series, do you have a favourite? I think they’re all great, but I love hippogriffs, so mine is the third book. If you liked the last book, Harry potter and the Deathly Hallows, you can read about the law in relation to it here.
Harry Potter is an orphan being raised by his aunt and uncle. When he’s eleven, he finds out that he has magical powers, and has been accepted into Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each book follows one school year at Hogwarts, and the adventures that Harry gets up to with his best friends, Ron and Hermione. This magical world provides lots of opportunities to think about how the law applies to schools. While you’re reading, you could think about whether your school is following the rules that it should be. You can find more information about how the law works here.
Your Voice in School
Wales requires all state schools to have a school council. Some English schools might choose to have them, but it’s not mandatory. There’s lots of information about how schools are run, and what types of schools need school councils. Find out more here.
A school council is a group of students who represent the views of pupils in decision making. The group should represent the whole school and have at least one student from each year group. The school council also nominates two older students to be ‘Pupil Governors,’ who are involved in some decisions at a higher level. If you have something to say but you’re not on the school council, you can still talk to someone who is, or a teacher, who can raise a point on your behalf, and you should be kept updated on what happens. Wales introduced school councils because every child has the right to express their feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and have their views taken seriously. That is one of your rights, and you can find more of them here.
At Hogwarts, teachers annually elect Prefects from fifth year and they hold this title until they leave school. A Head Boy and Head Girl are also chosen from seventh year by the Headmaster. Being a Prefect doesn’t guarantee becoming Head Boy or Girl, but a student can be both. This means only older students can hold these positions, and they aren’t voted for. While they’re chosen differently, it might look like this operates similarly to a school council. However, these positions don’t offer a platform to voice opinions, or to talk to students about problems. They just have extra responsibilities, like making sure students are in bed on time. This is an example of Hogwarts not meeting the standards expected of schools in Wales. Does your school have a school council? If you’re not on it, do you get the chance to speak to them, and are the school council listened to?
“I, unlike you, have been made prefect, which means I, unlike you, have the power to hand out punishments” – Draco Malfoy
Respect in School
If there is something unfair happening that affects everyone, you can talk to the school council about it. However, if it’s specific to you, it gets dealt with differently. If you feel like you aren’t being treated properly in school, you can talk to a trusted adult (either at school or at home), or go to an organisation that gives advice and support. All secondary schools have an independent counselling service, so that might be a good place to start. Whoever you decide to talk to should be able to help you decide what you want to do next.
It’s not just the other students who might mistreat you. At Hogwarts, Professor Snape is cruel to his students, threatening them, or insulting them – sometimes publicly. Hopefully, you will never have to deal with anything like this, but if you feel like a teacher is treating you unfairly, and the adults you’ve spoken to aren’t helping, every school should have a complaints procedure that you can follow.
Teachers need to make sure they’re respecting your rights and your dignity. If we look at how Hogwarts deals with bullying, there don’t seem to be many systems in place to protect students. Some good teachers like Professor McGonagall will step in when they see bullying, but they can’t be everywhere. Students are mostly left to resolve issues amongst themselves, for example being allowed to wear badges that say “Potter stinks” all year long. Snape is also allowed to bully students even after he does it in front of other teachers. Your school should not be like this. It should have clear guidelines on how you can access help, and what will happen if you do.
“Five points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable know-it-all” – Professor Snape
Your Needs at School
Welsh schools provide food for students eligible for free school meals. The Welsh Government has also provided free school meals for eligible students during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Article 24 of the UNCRC says all countries should try to make sure that all children have access to adequate food and water. You might not need free school meals, but is it an option at your school?
Hogwarts goes a step further than the Welsh government, providing meals for every student. Hogwarts also feeds all the children who stay at Hogwarts over the holidays. However, while there are lots of food options, students can pick whatever they want to eat. Do you think this is a good idea? Some fans have a theory that the food is magically made healthy, but this wouldn’t prepare students very well for adult life. Does your school offer healthy meal choices? It’s never touched-on in the books but seeing as Hogwarts let students eat what they want, it would make sense to educate them on nutrition so they can make informed choices about what they choose.
Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table.
Your Health at School
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides forthe right to health. An example of Wales responding to this is the requirement that all schools have a school nurse. Your school nurse might be part-time or doing another job as well, but at Hogwarts they have a full-time school nurse called Madam Pomfrey. While the accidents are sometimes a bit more unusual at Hogwarts, just like your school nurse should, Madam Pomfrey provides trained first aid.
October arrived, spreading a damp chill… Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was kept busy by a sudden spate of colds among the staff and students.
I Want More Information
You can find lots more information about your rights surrounding school here, as well as links to lots more information about how the law affects you.
About the author
I’m Isabella Doyle, a Swansea University Law graduate. I was born in Wales and I volunteer keenly for human rights projects at home and internationally. I have a green thumb and a Manchester Terrier called Doogal.