I am really pleased to see some important measures being introduced in today’s Queen’s Speech. Some of these I have been calling for, on children’s behalf, based on the things they have told me are important to them.
Online Safety Bill
I am glad to see the Online Safety Bill carried over from the previous session. This is a major piece of legislation which will establish a new framework for regulating the digital world, resetting the contract between tech firms and their youngest users. Last year, I was jointly commissioned by the Secretary of State for Digital, Media and Culture and Secretary of State for Education to deliver recommendations for the Bill. I am glad to see many of my key asks reflected in the re-draft, including around pornography, age assurance and cyber-flashing. I will continue to follow the Bill’s passage closely, ensuring that the debate remains grounded in children’s rights. I will work tirelessly to put children’s voices at the heart of the Bill.
The Victims’ Bill
The Victims’ Bill is also crucial legislation, which I hope will put the Victims’ Code on a statutory footing alongside wider action in particular to address violence against women and girls. I was pleased to contribute to the formal consultation on the Bill, where I called for children’s voices to be at the centre of decision-making and for services for child victims to be placed – at the very least – on par with those for adult victims. I look forward to continued work with Government around their proposals to improve children’s experiences of the justice system.
Draft Mental Health Reform Act Bill
In The Big Ask, children said just how important they feel their mental health is to their lives today and their future success. That’s why I am continuing to focus on increasing access to mental health care for children, including for those with the most acute clinical needs. The reform to the Mental Health Act is extremely important to this cohort in particular, so we must pay careful attention to how this reform will affect children who may need to be detained.
I welcome the measures to improve England’s schools’ system – in the Schools Bill. The Bill’s introduction of a register of children not in school is important, and is something the office has called for. The register will allow for children who have fallen through the gaps in our education system to be identified and provided with the right support. I have been clear how vital it is for all children to be in school and attending consistently. That’s why, I also welcome measures to tackle illegal and unregistered schools, to ensure that all children are accessing a safe and high-quality education.
The Schools Bill also calls for every school to publish their policy on attendance. As I have made clear in my Attendance Audit – school is the best place for children to be. I have made it my mission to ensure that every child is getting the best possible education across the country.
Next month, I will publish further findings on my attendance work. These findings will reiterate the need for stronger systems to make sure every child is engaging in their education and the benefits it brings. Children should receive the support they need to receive an amazing education and to help us know where children are, so that none fall through the cracks. Alongside this, I will produce a guide for schools on how they can produce a children’s version of their attendance policy. This is important, as children have told me they often find policies and guidance designed for adults hard to navigate and difficult to understand.
The office will continue to focus on wider educational needs as the Schools Bill passes through Parliament. As I said in my paper on my vision for the school system, Ambition for All, I want every child to leave primary school being able to read and write so the focus on ensuring children meet expected standards of reading and writing by the end of primary school is also really important. This should be the ambition for every child. It can only be done by making sure every child receives any additional support they need. I believe that is best delivered by being in strong family of schools. This allows schools to benefit from shared resources, amazing teachers being able to focus on teaching and expertise on everything – from curriculum design to SEND support and behaviour management.
To meet this goal, we also need a really strong focus on improving SEND support in schools. I have been working within Government to push for an ambitious approach to reimagining SEND support across the country and am pleased to see progress on this with the latest consultation. I will be bringing children’s voices to the heart of my response to the SEND Green Paper consultation.
Children need to start school ready to learn. My Family Review will be exploring ideas on how we as a society can support families right from the earliest years, so that children get the help they need to thrive before they even set foot in a classroom.
The Queen’s Speech, includes legislation which will prove vital to children. Now, as this legislation passes through Parliament, children’s voice must be at the heart of it. That’s why I will work across Parliamentarians, policy-makers and others, on behalf of children, to get legislation, policy and implementation right and make sure we deliver positive change for them.