Today, I appeared in front of the Education Select Committee for my Accountability Hearing. This Committee is a group of MPs from different political parties who elected Robert Halfon MP to be their Chair. The Committee focuses on issues to do with children and young people, and the Committee also hold me to account in Parliament.
For me, this session was a chance to reflect on all the things that children have told me over the past year and a half, and how I have worked to make their voices heard. Children have trusted me with their life stories, their ambitions, and their hopes for the future, so it is only right that Parliament makes sure I am delivering for them.
One of the things I am most proud of is how many children I have heard from, in all kinds of ways. I and my team have spoken to hundreds of children in focus groups, workshops, in visits to schools, hospitals, children’s homes and youth custody settings. The first thing I did on taking up my role was to send out The Big Ask, which over half a million children answered and was the largest-ever survey of children.
This session provided me with a fantastic opportunity to talk about some of the insights that came out of the survey – from mental health and wellbeing. to careers and work experience. In fact, I met a young person at the session who was watching it as part of their work experience. It was great to hear their perspective about Parliament and how children can be supported to have their say.
I was particularly pleased to discuss my office’s work on school attendance. There are many different reasons why children are not in school and vary depending on the child. It’s not about blaming them, but about understanding why, as the first step to persuade them back into school – and this is something that children have told me they want to happen. It was great to see members of the Committee engaging on this issue and understanding the importance of getting children’s voices into the policy conversation to make real and lasting change.
Talking to children has shaped the seven pillars I have chosen to focus on during my term: Family, Health and Wellbeing, School, Jobs and Skills, Community, Children’s Social Care, and a Better World.
I am working hard to deliver change for children in all these areas. Sometimes that means scrutinising legislation as it goes through Parliament to make sure it works for children, as I am with the Online Harms Bill and the Draft Victims Bill. Sometimes it means trying make sure that Government plans are the best they can be, which is why I will be responding to the SEND Green Paper with ideas to make it work better for the children and families who need additional support. And sometimes it means coming up with ambitious plans for the future, which is why I will soon be publishing my vision for the future of children’s mental health support.
As families face increased pressure on their finances, there is a risk that life becomes more difficult for the inspiring children I have met over the course of my term. It is my duty to make sure that Government hears the voices of those children and does all it can to allow them to achieve their goals.