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Volume 50 Number 19, May 23, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

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The Children's Commissioner for England

Anne Elizabeth Longfield OBE is the Children's Commissioner for England. She was formerly chief executive of the charity 4Children.

A week ago she intervened in the contention as to whether it would be safe to reopen schools on June 1. She said that the government and teaching unions should "stop squabbling and agree a plan to get kids back into school". Anne Longfield said that many disadvantaged children were losing out because of schools being closed for so long. Thus under the cover of high ideals the dispute between teachers and government was trivialised. The remarks are seen to be directed against the collective of teachers whom those in authority want to paint as just making trouble when they should be working together with the government. But everyone knows that it is the government who should be working with the teachers. It is now being reported that at least 75% of schools will stay shut on June 1.

It should be mentioned that a group of independent scientists urged the government to delay reopening schools. Delaying the reopening of primary schools in England on June 1 by two weeks could halve the risk to each child of being exposed to an infectious classmate, according to a report by the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a recently-formed group of scientists that is seeking to provide alternative advice to the government advisory body SAGE. The group say that modelling suggests that waiting until September would reduce this risk further, to less than the risk to children of road traffic accidents. The group is chaired by former government chief scientific advisor David King. "The crucial factor allowing school reopening around the world has been the presence of well-functioning local test, trace and isolate protocols - something that is now accepted will not be in place in England by early June," the report says. It adds that before schools can reopen, it is important to confirm that daily new coronavirus infections are decreasing and that schools have access to personal protective equipment.

Background of Anne Longfield (source: Wikipedia)

She was appointed the Children's Commissioner for England in March 2015. The role is to bring about long term change and improvements for all children, and in particular the most vulnerable, with a special focus on those in care.

She has powers of data collection under section 2f of The Children's Act (2014). These powers were added to the office from the original 2004 act which established the Children's Commissioner's role.

In 2015, shortly after starting her new role as children's Commissioner, Longfield was criticised for removing her Deputy, Sue Berelowitz, with an enhanced severance package, and then immediately hiring her back as a consultant. It transpired that this had taken place without securing the required approval from government ministers and was therefore an abuse of her powers. The arrangement was subsequently cancelled as a result of media attention and the organisation ordered to repay to HM Treasury £10,000 of misused public funds.

In recent years Longfield has developed a number of high profile and successful campaigns and policies surrounding children's mental health, vulnerable children and children growing up in the digital world. She also established Help at Hand, a helpline for children in care that has helped a thousand children every year.

Longfield is a strong critic of the home education system and likens it to 'imprisoning children'. She is also ardently anti-union branding them a disgrace to the education system.

Views

Longfield is concerned about the effect of benefit cuts on vulnerable children in low income families. Longfield stated that universal credit and wider welfare reforms disproportionately affect single parents. Longfield stated, "There is a great risk here that the government looks like it's going back to an outdated... viewpoint which is demonising both single parents but also families claiming benefit, and working mothers."

Longfield also believes that face-to-face education is more important than the health of a child's family. Primarily, during the Covid-19 pandemic, she stated that delaying schools reopening would disadvantage children despite the likelihood that reopening schools would lead to the deaths of many of these children's parents, careers and teachers.

Children's Commissioner for England

The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England is a non-departmental public body in England responsible for promoting and protecting the rights of children as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as other human rights legislation, such as the Human Rights Act 1998. The Children's Commissioner was established under the Children Act 2004 to "represent the views and interests of children", and the office was further strengthened by the Children and Families Act 2014 providing a legal mandate to promote and protect the rights of children. The Children's Commissioner also has a duty to speak on behalf of all children in the United Kingdom on non-devolved issues, which include immigration, and youth justice in Wales.

The post of Children's Commissioner for England was established by the Children Act 2004 with the intended purpose of becoming the independent voice of children and young people, thereby championing their interests and bringing their concerns to the national arena. More than 130 organisations campaigned for the establishment of a Children's Commissioner for England for 13 years. Professor Al Aynsley-Green was appointed England's first Children's Commissioner in March 2005.

(References can be found on Wikipedia)


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