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As Children’s Commissioner it is my job to promote and protect the rights of children, and to make sure their voices are heard. That’s why in September 2023, I launched The Big Ambition to hear directly from children, young people, and parents across the country.

I wanted to hear about what they wanted for the future, their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. In the year of the General Election, I thought it was a critical moment to take children and young people’s voices to policymakers, decision takers, parliamentarians, government, and all those working with and for children. And over 367,000 children and adults engaged with it. I was particularly pleased that this include so many children with social workers, living away from home, with additional needs, or missing education. A truly ambitious vision for childhood must have at its heart those children who are too often overlooked.

When I first saw the results of The Big Ambition survey, one number stood out to me above all others. 22% of children agreed that people who run the country listen to what they have to say. Initially this made me feel despondent. That this was a generation who had lost all faith in leaders and politicians. But as I read more and more of the responses to the survey, and reflected on the hundreds of children I had spoken to, I realised the message was in fact a very different one.

This is not a generation who have become cynical, who believe that nothing will ever change. This is a generation who feel frustrated that 4 they are not listened to, exactly because they have complete faith that if they were listened to, then politicians could and would transform their lives for the better.

Four years ago, in the pandemic, children saw the power that the government has to change lives. They saw the government step in to protect children and adults against the threat of the pandemic, to support their families through the furlough scheme, and to rollout a nationwide vaccine drive. Children saw the Prime Minister making decisions in almost real time about whether they could go to school, or see their grandparents. This generation witnessed the power of government to affect radical change. This inspired a belief that governments can and should change policies and laws to make their lives better.

And they are right to believe this. I believe it too. From my years working in education, and from my time as Children’s Commissioner, I have seen governments of different parties show that it is possible to commit to eradicating the harms of smoking, to radically reduce the number of children in Youth Offending Institutes, to narrow the education gap between rich and poor children, or tackle child poverty. What this takes is energy, political will and commitment.

I want this paper to serve as a call to action, for whoever forms the next government, to decide now that they will commit all their energy and effort to improving the lives of children.

The policies proposed in this paper draw directly on what children themselves told us. As such, they are ambitious. They would make the rights children are entitled to a reality. They are designed to be child[1]up, rather than system-down. They provide a positive vision for what childhood could be like if only it were reimagined through the eyes of children.

Children are ambitious. And they speak with a moral clarity that is deeply refreshing for those of us verging on cynicism, who are perhaps too used to talk of cost benefit ratios or return on investment when it comes to childhood. As one of my youth ambassadors put it, when talking about tech firms neglecting their duty to keep children safe online, ‘it may be your livelihoods, but it’s our childhoods’.

Children don’t feel the need to debate why it will be beneficial in the long term to ensure that every family has sufficient financial capacity to support their children. They simply state that no child should 5 go hungry, because it is wrong. They do not talk in the language of targets, and they do not set the bar at what is simply easy to achieve. They speak in terms of fairness. Children believe that true inclusion means that no child is left out. As such, our policies are designed to improve the lives of all children.

But this scale of ambition does not mean that children are purely idealists. Most of their ambitions are quietly pragmatic, and eminently reasonable. They want their local park to be a nicer place to spend time. They want to know they can have someone to talk to when they are sad. They want to stop worrying about the cost of living, and just enjoy their childhood. They want, in short, to be children and be allowed to be children. They believe in the power of adults to transform their lives for the better.

The Big Ambition results show how grateful children are for those adults who support them every single day. One of the most heartwarming findings from The Big Ambition was that young people from schools where the majority of children are eligible for free school meals were even more likely than their peers to agree that they had great teachers who supported them. Having dedicated my career to turning around the life chances of children in some of our country’s toughest schools, this finding gives me hope. It proves that we can change children’s lives, if we make their ambitions our priorities.

This paper sets out how, with a few clear ambitions, shared across government, both local and national, as well as everyone working with children, and underpinned by action that can be both radical and practical, the lives of children can be dramatically improved. This paper sets out a plan for making childhood not only safe and healthy, but joyful and ambitious.

So, I ask our political leaders now to address children’s frustration at being overlooked, and to repay their faith in you. Please listen to what they have to say, and more importantly – act, and make the difference they believe you can.