The Importance of Being Ambitious for Every Child
It was inspiring to be amongst so many people at the recent CST Annual Conference who are dedicated to making the world a better place for our children.
In my keynote at the conference, I detailed my seven pillars as Children’s Commissioner on how we can make sure that we are ambitious for every child - these are:
1. A better world - this pillar is all about making sure we continue to prioritise listening to children and ensuring their voices are at the heart of policy, particularly on the issues they care most about.
2. Family- I want to ensure that policy making, and makers are cognisant of the makeup of the modern-day family, no matter what shape or size this takes.
3. Children and communities - We must make our communities, both online and offline, safer for all children.
4. Children’s health and wellbeing - I want early intervention and proper support for children’s physical and mental health.
5. Children in care
There are about 80,000 children in care. The equivalent of about 80 big secondary schools. These children are some of the most vulnerable in our society and whilst local authorities are statutorily their corporate parent, we all must act like their parents too. We need to ask ourselves would this be good enough for our own child and if not, we must do better.
Nearly 6,000 children in care responded to The Big Ask and whilst some spoke of positive and loving experiences, others spoke of a lack of consistency and stability which was limiting their life chances. Children in care want the same thing as all other children: to be loved, to have friends and to make plans for the future.
‘I’ve been in the system for so long that getting let down has become normal," - Girl living in mental health ward, aged 17.
I want all children to be able to make at least one positive, trusting and stable relationship to help them get the right support and navigate the system. This could be a social worker, teacher, foster parent. Whoever it might be, we need to put a system in place that enables this. We owe it to all children in care, wherever they are in the country.
6. Jobs and skills
In The Big Ask, having a good job was children’s top future priority. There is no shortage of ambition amongst England’s children. But children want more advice and support to succeed in their chosen careers. They wanted more information on vocational careers and more opportunities, no matter where they live.
Girls spoke about the importance of female STEM role models. To help connect the maths curriculum with careers, skills and everyday life, I launched a series of career profiles of women who use maths in their jobs to help girls see a future for themselves. I really want to help girls link STEM school subjects to where they dream of taking their careers. Schools must match the ambitions of our young people and help them achieve things they might initially think are out of reach.
"I want to be a brain surgeon and help people!! If not that I just want a job to help the community," – Girl, aged 11
We need to ask ourselves would this be good enough for our own child and if not, we must do better.
Dame Rachel de Souza
As outlined during the conference, a particular area of schools I’ve focused on is attendance. I truly believe that school is the best place for children to be. However, even before the pandemic, there has been a group of children who have struggled to attend school regularly and who have fallen through the gaps of our education system. Coming out of the pandemic this has only got worse!
When I spoke to conference attendees in June, I had recently published the findings of my Attendance Audit. I outlined my six ambitions that I believe will tackle the problem of persistent absence which will ensure every child is accounted for and is receiving the right support. On the 14th July, I published the conclusions from data analysis on individual patterns of pupil attendance in three MATs. Back Into School: New insights into school attendance
‘"Attending the first week of school is a strong indicator that a child will go on to attend school regularly throughout the term,’" Back Into School: New insights into school attendance.
This mission I left you with at the conference is the same mission I would like to leave you with now – to get 100% attendance on the first day of the September term. We need to work together now to get our children and young people back into school. Our Back into School pages have lots of resources to ensure that children, schools, parents and professionals who work with children are confident for the return to school in September.
At a time of unpredictability for everyone, we need to work together to create a system of support and focus efforts to build an education system that delivers for all- so that no child feels held back from achieving their dreams and ambitions.