Dame Rachel de Souza wants children mentioned in all PM speeches

Rachel de Souza, outgoing chief executive of the Inspiration Trust

Rachel de Souza, outgoing chief executive of the Inspiration Trust who is taking up the role of children's commissioner for England. - Credit: Tom Barnes

The former boss of a Norfolk academy trust has said the country is at risk of having a "lost generation" if children are not put at the very top of the government's agenda.

Rachel de Souza has started her new role as England's children's commissioner and in one of her first moves is launching a review calling on the prime minister to mention children in every speech.

And she has also mooted a move that would see every school in the country employ a counsellor to help tackle mental health problems in children.

She said: "I have seen first-hand the effect of this crisis on young people's hopes and dreams and sometimes our answers simply haven't been good enough.

"We've got an epidemic of mental health problems that was bubbling. I'm really interested to see what children and young people say because every conversation I have, this comes up."

She also said she was "determined" to make sure children are prioritised so they do not become a "lost generation" as a result of the pandemic.

Dame Rachel, who was boss at the Inspiration Trust before being appointed children's commissioner, said: "I want to see childhood right at the top of the government agenda. That means every speech from the prime minister and chancellor mentioning children and every government department constantly pushing to improve the lives of children.

"We will start by listening to children, holding the largest consultation with children in England that there has ever been."

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She added that proposals on changes to the school calendar by education secretary Gavin Williamson, which would see changes to the summer holidays and longer school days, were "really interesting".

She said: "When I was running a trust myself, it was the children themselves who wanted to come back to school early in thee summer holiday so they didn't miss out.

"So I think we should be exploring these ideas with headteachers, parents, with children, but for me as children's commissioner, my job is to ask children and young people what they think and to share that.

"I want to see a 10-year-plan and I want it to be a plan that really puts children at the centre of all areas of policy so they can have successful lives."