“If the Government is really focused on educational catch-up, it wouldn’t even countenance pushing those 800,000 children into the devastating kind of poverty which can have a much bigger impact on their life chances than the school they go to or the catch-up tuition they get.”
“How many children are in families that are struggling to support them; how many are starting school so far behind they’ll never catch up; how many children with mental health needs or special educational needs aren’t getting the help they should be?”
Ms Longfield, who reflected on her six years as children’s commissioner, talked about her frustration with Whitehall officials failing to tackle many problems facing vulnerable children.
In her speech, she said: “The machinery of Government means that so many who are responsible for decisions about children’s lives don’t get to meet them. Instead the Government machine seems to view them as remote concepts or data points on an annual return.
“This is how children fall through the gaps – because too often the people in charge of the systems they need simply don’t see and understand their world.”
“Too often I have had to cajole people to the table, to watch them sit through a presentation, maybe ask a question, and then on too many occasions almost vacantly walk away going back to the task and the priority of the day.
“I don’t believe that truly reflects the extent of Government and the public’s commitment to helping children succeed,” Ms Longfield added.
Ms Longfield, who will step down from the role at the end of the month, called it a “national scandal” that almost a fifth of children leave school or college without basic qualifications.
She called on politicians not to forget vulnerable children, adding: “These are your children now. You have a chance to put them centre stage. When you do build back better, make sure you do it around them.”
During the virtual event, Tory MP Robert Halfon, the chairman of the Education Select Committee, said the Covid-19 pandemic had “laid bare the damning truth about our educational divide”.
He said catch-up support for children should “not just be about algebra and Shakespeare” as children’s mental health had become “dangerously fragile”.
An extension of the school day – for physical activity, mental health support and tuition – would support children’s “broader recovery,” Mr Halfon said.
A Government spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children has been at the heart of our response to the pandemic, driven by our commitment to level up opportunities and outcomes.
“That’s why we have enabled the most vulnerable children to continue attending school in person, while providing laptops, devices and data packages to those learning at home and ensuring the most disadvantaged children are fed and warm.
“We have also driven forward crucial reform in adoption, in the care system, in post-16 education and in mental health support – and our long-term catch-up plans and investment of over £1 billion will ensure we make up for lost time in education over the course of this Parliament.
“Anne Longfield has been a tireless advocate for children, and we’re grateful for her dedication and her challenge on areas where we can continue raising the bar for the most vulnerable.”