Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has appointed the former headteacher, and founder of a multi-academy schools trust to the Children’s Commissioner role.  What is striking about this appointment is that despite growing calls for reform in the children’s social care sector, and a long-awaited and still to be finalised care review, the new appointee hugely lacks skills and experience in this vital area and in children’s rights!

A letter to the Education Secretary from the Education Committee outlines their points of concern which leave you wondering why this person was appointed without the skills necessary to fulfil the scope of such an important job role?

Extract from the Education Committee Letter of Concern

‘Whilst the majority of the Committee were satisfied that she is a competent candidate and is appointable, her evidence before us highlighted several deficits in her knowledge
and experience, which she will need to address as soon as possible. In particular, we were concerned at the candidate’s apparent lack of knowledge of some areas relevant to her new role. Key among these were in the fields of children’s social care and fostering and adoption, youth services, the youth justice system, child and adolescent mental health services and the wider immigration system.

We recommend that as a priority the candidate engages with a range of organisations across the areas where she has less direct experience, in order to enhance her skills and knowledge and to build stakeholder relationships that will facilitate her new role as an advocate for all children. We also noted that she was unable to outline a position on key issues for children’s rights, such as when questioned about her views on banning corporal punishment in England. The primary function of the Children’s Commissioner role is ‘promoting and protecting the rights of children in England’, and we recommend that Dame Rachel take immediate steps to inform herself in this area.

We are also concerned that she did not explain fully how she intends to use evidence to challenge and inform the work of Government, including existing organisations that gather evidence of good practice such as the What Works Centres.

As a Committee, we also have some questions about the recruitment process that the Department ran for this role. If you are able to supply the Committee with any
additional information on how members of the Advisory Assessment Panel were selected, and on the extent to which the views of children and young people were reflected in your recommendation of a candidate, it would be appreciated. Championing the rights of all children in England, both inside and outside of education is likely to require Dame Rachel to take a different approach to that she has adopted in her career in schools. We are concerned that Dame Rachel faces a steep learning curve in taking on this complex role that serves all children in England. We intend to hold regular accountability hearings with the new Children’s Commissioner and will particularly monitor how she addresses the above concerns in the early stages of her new role.’

De Souza will begin her six-year stint in the position on 1 March 2021, replacing outgoing commissioner Anne Longfield.

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