Children’s Commissioner
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The Big Ambition: Children’s views on school

As a headteacher and former trust leader, with over 30 years of experience in education, I have proudly been involved in the movement to raise standards in schools and to improve the educational outcomes for children across England. I have seen how children’s lives have been transformed by the improvements to schools over the last twenty years. But I have also witnessed how schools have become one of the last standing public services, a place that children and parents rely upon, one of the only places they can turn to when they need help.

Since I started as Children’s Commissioner, I have ensured that listening to children sits at the heart of all that I do. I have visited hundreds of schools, spoken to thousands of children, and heard directly from over a million children and young people in The Big Ambition.

I have heard directly from children that they want school to be the place that they can go to when they need extra help. While teachers themselves cannot do everything, schools are a place that sits at the heart of their communities, trusted by parents and children alike.

There are a few common and uniting themes amongst children, and one is education. Every time I speak to children, they tell me how important school is to them and that is as true for children who are engaged and attend regularly as those for whom the system is not currently meeting their needs.

School is the place where most children spend most of their time. It’s the place where children make their first friends, learn about the world, and discover their talents. They are grateful for their teachers and the other adults who teach and support them.

School is also a safe haven for thousands of children: when children are struggling, it’s somewhere they can turn to for help.

When I speak to children they tell me what makes school a great place to be, and they share their ideas about how to make sure every child has a brilliant school experience. They also tell me about what changes they want to see to the education system.

In The Big Ambition children told me that they want to go to a school where they feel cared for, l, where they know that staff care for them and believe in them. Schools are one of our most trusted institutions for children and families alike.

They are built on the care and dedication of teachers, teaching assistants, and school staff. As one 12-year-old girl told me in The Big Ambition: “Each child needs an education and teachers that help them achieve any dreams and goals they have, a teacher you feel safe with.”

When children are facing challenges, whether at school or at home, they want to be able to share these with adults at school. Children want to feel safe to share their concerns at school. They want teachers who they can confide in and places they can go in school when they’re struggling. Lots of children have told me the importance of having strong relationships with school staff.

When asked what should change to make children’s lives better, one 16-year-old girl told me: “More safe spaces around the schools/colleges where young people can talk about their issues with someone trustworthy. […]”

Children want schools to be a place which fosters their love of learning. Whenever I go on a school visit, I ask children what their favourite thing about their school is. They almost always tell me which subject they enjoy. Their eyes light up as they talk about what they’re doing in drama or how the lessons they’re learning in science will help them secure their dream job.

Children want fun opportunities both in lessons and in after school clubs. As one 13-year-old girl told me: “They should add more fun activities to do while learning so kids can actually have fun and learn at the same time […].”

When schools do provide extra-curricular activities, children want them to be accessible to all. They want after school clubs and enrichment activities to be part of their school life. In The Big Ambition, one 10-year-old boy suggested we should: “Make after school clubs free (swimming, football, basketball, netball, dancing, gymnastics) and give everyone a chance to do what they’ve always wanted to do and give everyone a good life.”

It makes sense to children that when they are facing difficulties, school is the place that they should turn to for help. Children tell me that the services there to support them are often not easily accessible. As one 16-year-old girl said, in response to The Big Ambition: “I think there should be easier ways to get help, people shouldn’t have to wait on a waiting list for months.”

Children want greater support to be available in schools, to meet them where they are. When asked what the government should do to make children’s lives better, one young person told me: “[schools] should have accessible counselling services, mental health education, supportive environments, and accessible resources.”

The responses to The Big Ambition are clear, children really value their education, many love their teachers, but they want to see schools focus on a stronger pastoral support offer.

In the year ahead, I will be using more of these findings from The Big Ambition to inform my vision for the school system. I want to ensure that the voices of England’s children shape the education system which serves them.


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