‘School democracy’ is connected with inclusive and transparent decision-making at school governance level as well as at daily class and school life level.

It largely depends on the level and quality of participation of all school community members, in accordance with their different roles. As far as students are concerned, apart from existing national provisions, the right of all children to freely express their views and to participate in decision-making is based on provisions and principles of international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). The right of children to be heard has been guaranteed by article 12 of the UN CRC and constitutes one of its general principles. This principle has been stressed also by Recommendation CM/Rec (2012)2 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the participation of children and young people under the age of 18.

An important tool in this respect is the Council of Europe’s Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (RFCDC). The RFCDC is a set of materials aiming at assisting teachers and schools to implement interventions and practices that contribute to develop democratic, tolerant and diverse societies through education. The Framework is used to equip young people with the competences that are needed to take action to defend and promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law, to participate effectively in a culture of democracy, and to live peacefully together.

The Council of Europe considers it important that schools act as examples, by systematically using democratic principles in their work and operations, and to improve their models by comparing them and exchanging with other relevant actors. This is the reason why the Council of Europe has launched the Democratic Schools Network (DSN). The DSN aims at highlighting examples of schools and their good practices regarding the exercise and defence of learners’ democratic rights and responsibilities, in order to inspire and empower school communities all over Europe in developing their own skills and competences towards the goal of building and sustaining school democracy. Due account is currently being taken of the particular needs and challenges that have arisen due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting online operation of many schools for long periods.

The Democratic Schools Network’s activities will be based on and inspired by:

Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)7 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to member States, adopting the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, which aims at disseminating good practices and raising standards in empowering learners to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, to the building and defense of a universal culture of human rights,

the “Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education” (EDC/HRE) programme, in the context of which relevant activities, conferences, publications and projects took place, including The EDC/HRE educational project “Living Democracy”, an online educational resource available in 13 languages, promoting democracy and human rights in school, combining readymade lesson plans with ideas for action in classroom.

Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)13 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on ensuring quality education,

the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (RFCDC), already mentioned above, has 3 components:

the “Free to Speak, Safe to Learn Democratic Schools for All” project, that aims to support schools across Europe in building and maintaining democratic culture and to give voice to members of school communities, to make known the work they do to develop democratic and inclusive schools. The project develops around 6 themes: