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7 January 2011

Young people shine at Blackpool education conference

Happy New Year! 

This week I was a guest speaker at the North of England Education Conference (NEEC) in Blackpool. The event is now 107 years old and it attracts hundreds of delegates, and high profile contributors. This year was no different with Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP former Secretary of State Baroness Estelle Morris, Shadow Secretary of State Andy Burnham MP and leaders from national and local policy settings. The conference president this year was Ann Widdecombe, and some sessions were chaired by reporter and former MP Martin Bell.

In my speech I presented our developing thinking on how the Office of the Children's Commissioner moves forward following the Government's recent review of the organisation, and I also highlighted some of the findings from our ongoing research into children and young people's views on education. You may have seen today that various media have reported on what the 2,000 children and young people told us and we are getting ready to publish a full report in the near future.

Co-planned by young people

The great thing about this year's conference was that it was co-planned and co-led by around 50 young people from Blackpool. They were part of the media and film crews capturing events and keeping the conference hall wired for sound. Two young people -  Max Bailey and Nicole Burke - were co-Presidents.

Young people were also part of the conference hospitality; meeting and greeting delegates and close to 20 of them ran one of the best workshops, which I attended. They showcased and helped us understand Blackpool's award-winning work on participation and the inclusion of children and young people's voices in policy-making and practice.

This was their conference as much as ours. They made some very telling contributions that made us all think differently about the business at hand. A group of them questioned both Nick Gibb and Andy Burnham today on education policy, alongside and with the same status as adult delegates. This is real participation in action. 

Well done Blackpool - they certainly set high standards for Leeds to follow in 2012!

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everybody who works with or supports children and young people, who received an award in the New Year Honours list.

By Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England