Children's Commissioner returns to her Luton roots with school visit
The recently appointed Children's Commissioner for England returned to her Luton roots with a visit to Denbigh High School yesterday.
Dame Rachel de Souza, 53, served as deputy headteacher at Denbigh over 20 years ago, later going on to be head of Barnfield West Academy [now Chalk Hills].
In March, she was chosen by the government to take over the reins as Children's Commissioner - the highest child protection role in the land.
Dame Rachel chose to visit Luton for the first port of call in her national roadshow as she launches 'The Big Ask' - billed as the largest ever survey of children's views in the UK.
"It really is about promoting children's rights, as well as their views, to government," said Dame Rachel.
"We make sure that children are at the front and centre of government policy.
"Children have really suffered during the pandemic. They were the least likely to get coronavirus but in many ways, they have made the biggest sacrifices.
"My view is that it's time to give something back, we must make sure children have what they need to be successful."
The Children's Commissioner is a politically neutral post set up in 2005. Dame Rachel works with both cabinet secretaries and frontbench members of the opposition in order to advance children's interests in government policy.
"For me, it certainly involves working with politicians of all parties and heads of services in order to make progress.
"Being apolitical, it's a difficult tight rope to walk sometimes, but it's important that all Parliamentarians respect children's views.
"It's great to be back here after 20 years, and I can still see the same high standards are upheld that we were so proud of back then."
At Denbigh, Dame Rachel spoke to children about their experiences of lockdown, as well as their hopes for the future.
She said: "As I was talking to the kids today. One of the questions was what they'd like to do for their future jobs. The level of ambition is off the scale - kids want to be anaesthetists, they want to be the next Elon Musk, designing electric cars to save the planet - it was fantastic.
"It was also interesting hearing the two big issues which children described about their lockdown experience. One was mental health and anxiety - which has been exacerbated for many during the pandemic. The children were very keen that something needs to be done about this.
"The other issue was their online learning. Some schools and academy trusts, such as the Chiltern Learning Trust, have worked very hard to make sure children had access to digital devices, while others have struggled.
"Another point children raised was the importance of having somewhere to study outside of the home, whether be it libraries or study rooms."
Despite Luton's high levels of child poverty, the town boasts some of the best schools in the country. A higher proportion of schools are rated 'outstanding' in Luton by Ofsted than the rest of Bedfordshire, while both Denbigh High School and Challney High School for Boys are placed in top 5% in England.
"What it shows is that high standards and high aspirations are things which all schools can attain," said Dame Rachel.