Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, appeared before MPs on the Education Select Committee on 14 November. Here’s a quick roundup of the key things she had to say:
In response to question from Chair Robert Halfon MP she said that children and parents had been talking to her about mental health since from the moment she started her job. Worryingly, she commented that a number of children told her reporting suicidal thoughts is not enough to get help – you actually have to attempt suicide to be taken seriously. This is something we have also heard from our partner schools.
In her opinion the prevalence of mental health problems among children is increasing, something teachers and parents have also reported to her. She cited the increasing complexity of life, social media and issues in home life as the main contributing factors and said she is keen to shine a light on this and let MPs know about it.
Government should hold review to look at the impact of digital. She is currently doing one herself and pushing social media companies to be more responsible. Citing mental health support in schools is an urgency.
Later in the session she said child mental health was one of the key social justice concerns that need to be tackled.
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked why there is an Opportunity Area in the constituency of the Children’s Minister but none in the entire North East. This followed his question to the Secretary of State at an earlier section after SCHOOLS NorthEast contacted his office. He went on to ask why, as an advocate for children all over the country, she had not “raised an eyebrow” about the lack of an Opportunity Area in the North East.
Longfield replied that although she had no role in the allocation of Opportunity Areas, many areas in the North East would benefit from one. She said she would be oppressing for more opportunity areas where there is a great need for them and agreed that the North East should have one.
More generally, she said it was too early in the lifetime of Opportunity Areas to know how well they were working. She said she favours place based initiatives but her main criticism of Opportunity Areas was that they need to take on a much broader role than just education.
Chair Robert Halfon MP asked about Alternative Provision. Longfield replied that she welcomes the Committee’s inquiry, given that numbers are rising and outcomes for children are unacceptably low. She mentioned that the price per head for alternative provision can be 5 or 6 times higher than what it is in mainstream school.
She said her office had just produced a study on Alternative Provision, summarising its finding by saying children were generally disappointed with what the curriculum can offer them.
Role of the Children’s Commissioner for England
Ian Mearns asked if it was the Children’s Commissioner’s role to carry out an impact assessment of the cumulative impact of Government policies on children’s lives?
The Commissioner replied that the most thorough work on this is the UN’s “Children’s rights in impact assessments” report, which takes place every five years. She went on to say that her office did look across Government to try to bring together Departments and join the dots.
Further questioned by Mr Mearns on what had happened in the time since she last appeared before the Committee, she said that she had further strengthened her team and produced a new “vulnerability framework”. She said while there is much concern about vulnerability, there is no common definition or data. An established vulnerability framework which measures the extent and scale of vulnerability is therefore vital. She went on to say she would like to see the framework recognised by Government and the third sector.