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New Children’s Commissioner to hold England’s largest ever survey of kids

Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza will use feedback from kids across the country to create a 10-year-plan she hopes will match the creation of the NHS in ambition

The new Children’s Commissioner is launching a “once in a generation” consultation of England’s kids on the biggest obstacles they face.

Dame Rachel de Souza – who took up the role after Anne Longfield completed her six-year term in the job in February – compared her new Childhood Commission to the pioneering post-war Beveridge report, which laid foundations for the welfare state and the NHS.

“I feel the responsibility of the role very deeply,” de Souza told The Big Issue. “The pandemic has had a profound impact on so many children’s lives. 

“I actually hate the term ‘lost generation’,” she added. “I was talking to a group of young people this morning and they said ‘we don’t recognise that and we want to be really successful. Although we’ve got fears and we’re worried about exams, uni, jobs for us or our parents, we want to give our all and be the great generation, not the lost one’. 

“We need to get behind them and deliver.”

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The review, dubbed The Big Ask, will ask children how the pandemic impacted their lives, what their aspirations are and what they think could hold them back from achieving them, how their communities could be improved, and how things are in their home lives.

Taking place after Easter, an online survey will be sent to all schools, posted to online classroom hub Oak National Academy and advertised through social media and frontline charities.

Keen to ensure no child misses the chance to have their say, de Souza will see that the survey is also sent to youth offending institutes, child mental health inpatient units and children’s homes. Face-to-face interviews and focus groups will be held with children from under-represented backgrounds.

“The Big Ask is the first step for our Childhood Commission because that’s exactly where we should ask,” de Souza said. “So many children told me they’ve not been consulted in decision making and feel overlooked.”

The review’s findings will form the basis of a report due before summer setting out children’s hopes, expectations and struggles. The Children’s Commissioner then hopes to work with the Government and children’s agencies to produce a 10-year plan to hold decision makers to account in the years to come.

“We’re going to ask every single child and young person we can. That’s why I referred to our commission as ‘Beveridge for children’. I want to capture that post-war spirit.

“Did they say there wasn’t enough money to establish a welfare state or the NHS? No, they didn’t. That report inspired some of the things we’re most proud of. Now is the moment to do that for children.”

In response, Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said the Conservatives had “overseen record numbers of children being pushed into poverty,” in their 10 years in power, as well as “a worsening mental health crisis and an 18-month gap in learning between disadvantaged children and their peers at GCSE.”

“This picture has to change, yet there was no mention of children in the Chancellor’s Budget and the Government has committed a measly 43p per child per day to support their recovery. 

“Labour launched our Bright Future Taskforce last week to help children to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure all children can reach their potential. Alongside the Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Big Ask’ I hope this will deliver a step change for children.”

The Bright Future Taskforce will develop policy to counter the loss of learning and social development young people have faced as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Children’s Commissioner has worked in education for nearly thirty years as a teacher, headteacher and academy trust leader, and was recognised in the 2014 New Year’s honour list for her work improving schools in disadvantaged areas.

Now de Souza wants the country to “feel inspired about the children’s agenda” and focus on problem solving, she said. “I’ll be holding those in power to account, but I want to see a golden age of solutions too.”

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