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Magna Carta day for Torriano Junior School, Camden, London, June 2015

An exercise in politics: to show that people can make a difference, in the same way that in 1215, twenty-five barons and one bishop changed our country – and the world – forever.


School drop-off time: ‘Lost: France’

As the pupils arrive at school they see this sign stuck to lamp-posts, shop windows and trees in the neighbourhood.

Morning assembly: 09.05-09.30 Background to Magna Carta and explanation of the pupils’ tasks.

Led by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, the audience re-enact King Johns awful actions (kidnapping child hostages, murdering members of his family, pulling the Irish lords’ beards, losing France) that drive the barons and the Church to make the first legal challenge to a monarch’s authority. He challenges the pupils to come up with a set of demands for a modern King John.

Lessons 9.30 – 11.00 Teacher-led lesson to decide on a demand for a 2015 Torriano Charter of Rights.

The pupils will:

  • Write their demand in a clear and succinct way. (language of persuasion/advocacy)
  • Prepare a ‘carrot’ and a ‘stick’ – something nice to offer King John if he agrees, something to threaten if he doesn’t agree. Reference what you know of his character.
  • Design a heraldic representation of their demand and make a class Shield and individual flags and pennants decorated with these emblems.
  • Prepare a parchment on which to write their completed demand (but not yet!)
  • Prepare a class ‘shout’ (like a football chant or cheerleaders shout, or the song R.E.S.P.E.C.T.) that will be their ‘fanfare’ when presenting their demand.
  • Connect their demand to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other curriculum topics such as democracy, suffragettes, World War 1
  • Connect their demand with Year curriculum themes: ( Fairness and Justice; ‘What makes me a…. ………citizen?’)

The lessons are interrupted at intervals by a monk, Brother Damian, Archbishop Stephen Langton’s clerk, to find out how each class is doing and, through discussion and debate help them sharpen their ideas to prepare to confront King John. The pupils will be reminded that John will find their modern ideas difficult to understand. They will have to explain their ideas very clearly.

Lessons 11.15 – 12.25 Teacher-led lesson (as necessary) to complete artwork.

Lessons 13.15 – 14.15 Teacher-led lesson. Practise presenting the demand and arguing with King John.

Brother Damian visits briefly to

  • agree to the final wording of the demand
  • consider the effectiveness of the group’s political persuasion (the ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’).
  • Hear the ‘class’ shout.

Finally, write the final draft on the prepared parchment.

Afternoon Assembly: 14.30 -15.15 King John hears the 2015 Torriano Charter of Rights. Will he seal it, or defy the people?

Follow-up: the Torriano Magna Carta was inscribed on parchment in English and Latin and displayed in the school lobby among the heraldic symbols of the barons, and the Great Seal.

Magna Carta day for Torriano School– suggestions for teacher-led sessions

We wanted elicit a different proposal from each class, so as to present King John with a variety of demands. For each Year group we suggested two topics, one for each class, based on the curriculum overviews. We linked the topic both to King John and to pupils’ studies, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Year 3:

Curriculum theme: What makes me an caring and active citizen? ……………….Demanding your rights!

  • The right to be heard.

King John has so far refused to listen to people. He does not allow people to say things against him. Bad news is censored. (For example about his disastrous wars)

Make a case for children’s opinions to be heard.

Reference UNCRC: Articles 12 (Respect for the views of the child) and 13 (freedom of expression)

  • The right to be healthy

King John’s constant demands have made it difficult for ordinary people to have enough to eat. The King’s soldiers have burned crops and houses. So people are cold and hungry, making them unhealthy.

Make a case for children to be allowed to be healthy

Reference UNCRC: Article 24 (Health and health services)

Year 4:

Curriculum theme: What makes me an informed and understanding citizen? ………………………………… learning about the history of human rights!

  • The right to representation (Democracy)

King John has ruled as an autocrat – a tyrant. The barons would have been shocked and horrified to hear that Magna Carta was one of the milestones leading to democracy. But Magna Carta insisted that both the barons and ordinary people (even women!) had rights. And it also asserted that the King was responsible for respecting and upholding those rights. It was a small step towards the democratic system of government we have today.

Make a case for democratic government

Reference Greek studies

Year 4 (contd)

  • The right to a childhood

King John used children as a weapon in his conflict with the barons. If barons did not do what he wanted, he took their children and held them as hostages. Some of these children became ill and died. He also abducted (kidnapped) a 12-year-old French girl and brought her to England to make her his wife! Plus, he sold his old wife!

Make a case for protecting children from being treated like slaves

Reference UNCRC: Article 35 (Abduction, sale and trafficking) Also news about e.g. Boko Haram and ‘Bring back our girls’

Year 5:

Curriculum theme: What makes me a responsible and respectful citizen?……………………………….. considering the rights of a diversity of people, rich and poor, male and female, young and old, etc.

  • Women’s Rights

King John famously treated women as property, to be bought, sold, or stolen! He abducted (kidnapped) a 12-year-old French girl and brought her to England to make her his wife! And he sold his old wife!

Magna Carta was one of the first legal documents to mention women’s rights. It wasn’t much (it was just about women’s inheritance rights). But it was significant that women were mentioned at all.

Make a case for a right for women, for instance the right to vote, or the right to equal pay.

Reference the Suffragette movement, or the change in the way women worked during World War 1.

  • Right to education

There were very few schools in the time of King John. The only people who were educated were the rich barons’ children who had private tutors in their castles. This meant that no one else could even read or write.

Make a case for universal education, freely available for all children, rich or poor.

Reference UNCRC: Article 28 (right to education) News about e.g. Malala.

Year 6

Curriculum theme: What makes me a fair and just citizen?……………………………….Asking all the time: ‘is that fair?’ And, if it isn’t fair, doing something about it!

In 1215, the barons were angry with King John for all sorts of reasons. Some reasons were self-interested, for instance to do with the way he was taxing them, and his losing France (where they had owned property). But they were also angry about the way King John was treating everyone unfairly and unjustly.

  • Just and unjust taxation: taxes to pay for wars

In King John’s day, taxes were mainly a way for Kings to pay for expensive wars. The barons either helped the King fight, or paid him taxes if they didn’t want to fight. If the wars were successful the barons were rewarded with land and castles in the conquered territories.

But not all the wars were successful… King John’s brother had raised massive taxes to fight the Crusades, which were religious wars against Muslims in the Middle East. They were entirely unsuccessful. At the time King John succeeded his brother Richard, England controlled most of what is now France. But the French barons started fighting back. King John was a hopeless commander, and lost nearly all the English territories in France.

Make a case for taxes to go down by not using them to pay for unnecessary wars.

Make sure the argument is about the justice of the case: is it fair to ask people to pay for wars that don’t make any difference to them, except cost them money – and lives

Reference: the work the pupils have done on WW1 and WW2. Both cost Britain a huge amount of money and lives. Were either of them necessary wars? Were they just or unjust?

  • Just and unjust taxation: taxes to pay for education, health and social care

In King John’s time there was no such thing as a health service or a social service.

What Magna Carta did was establish that if the King wanted people to pay taxes, he had to give them things they wanted and needed in return. People particularly wanted fairness and justice. Magna Carta demanded that the King protect weak people as well as strong people, women as well as men. Centuries later, more and more people began to feel that what they really wanted from the King, or government, wasn’t so much armies to fight wars, but services like schools and hospitals. So taxes became a way to pay for a country to be a nice, civilized place to live, happily, and peacefully; a country where everyone is treated fairly.

Make a case for taxes to go up to pay for education, health and social care (NB you might want to argue for one of those things, or a specific issue like care for disabled people)

Reference UNCRC: Articles 23 (children with a disability) 24 (Health), 26 (social security), 27 (education)

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