England's children have a new leader to help best represent their views and interests as the country emerges from a third national lockdown amid the Covid pandemic.
Dame Rachel de Souza, the new children's commissioner for England, says there is a once in a generation opportunity to "rebuild childhood" after the disruption of the coronavirus.
As well as promoting and protecting the rights of children, she will oversee the launch of a new survey designed to gather children's views on the impact of the virus outbreak.
Dame Rachel wants children to be top priority in the government’s plans - and promises to be “fearless” in her role of representing children’s interests. Find out more below…
Who is Rachel de Souza?
In March 2021, Rachel de Souza started work as the children’s commissioner for England.
Dame Rachel is a former head teacher and founder of the Norwich-based Inspiration Trust, a multi-age group network of 14 schools across East Anglia, which began in 2012.
The Trust has twice ranked as the nation’s top group of comprehensive schools based on pupil progress at GCSE. In 2014, she was made a Dame for services to education.
Born in Scunthorpe in 1968, she earned a BA in Philosophy and Theology at the University of London and later completed a PGCE at King’s College London.
What are Rachel de Souza’s plans?
Dame Rachel de Souza wants free school meals for children to be extended into the summer holidays, expressed concern over dropping Universal Credit and believes a 10-year plan for children should be installed after the pandemic in response to the survey.
“I think the pandemic has had a profound impact on children and young people’s lives, on many of them, on their education, on the time they spend with friends and family, on their mental health,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “There are some real worries.
“But I have also been delighted by the return to school and I think that’s where children and young people need to be and that’s where we can really start to sort these things out.
“So I think it’s time that the adults recognise what the children have been through, I think it’s time we put children at the heart and the centre of policy making.
“I would like to hear the Prime Minister and the Chancellor mention children, and policies for children, and children and the economic recovery in every speech.”
Dame Rachel has likened the scale of the challenge to reconstructing the social security system in the wake of the Second World War, which created the blueprint for the NHS.
She is launching the ‘Big Ask’ survey which will gather children’s views on the impact of the pandemic as part of a review to consider the disruption the virus has had on education.
What was the reaction to Rachel de Souza’s appointment?
Dame Rachel’s appointment as children’s commissioner was ratified by the Education Select Committee in December 2020, but not all MPs were convinced by her vision.
Conservative chair of the committee, Robert Halfon, said the view that Dame Rachel was “appointable” was not “unanimous” among the panel’s members.
Mr Halfon said: “While we recognise that Dame Rachel has had a prominent career in education, latterly as leader of an educational trust, not every member was wholly convinced in her vision and grasp of several of the major issues that she will need to champion as children’s commissioner.
“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.”
Mr Halfon added that Dame Rachel was also “unable to outline a position on key issues for children’s rights” – such as when she was questioned about her views on banning corporal punishment in England.
About Dame Rachel’s appointment, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I know that in this new role she will deliver positive change and champion the voices of children in this country, at a point where it is required more than ever.
“With her expertise and knowledge, she will keep the momentum up in protecting and promoting children’s rights.”