Monday 7th June I know this is going to be a difficult week. Ofsted have been working with many different expert groups on child protection on a review of child sexual abuse in schools. It is a very serious issue, and the report shows the chilling evidence that may children and young people have suffered from this abuse, both online and physically. The review is due to be published on Thursday, and I am due to give my first ministerial statement to the House of Commons to explain the actions we will take to give children more protection, and help support teachers and school staff so that they can better support young people when they turn to them for help. Much of my week is spent in preparing this work.
In the Department of Education, I meet with young people whose lives have been changed by the opportunities that they had when doing the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme. It would have been the Duke’s 100 birthday this week and we are working on plans to enable more state funded schools to take part in the scheme. The stories from the DfE graduates are truly inspiring. I also meet with Josh McAlister who is chairing and independent review into children’s social services. We discuss his ideas to strengthen support for families and those who step forward to become foster carers. In the House of Commons I sit on the front bench listening to the Education Secretary speaking about our plans to help children and young people recover from the learning that they have missed out on during the pandemic.
Tuesday 8th June We learn that the opposition party have called for a debate tomorrow on the education recovery plans. I have been asked to “close” the debate which involves summing up the discussion and responding to questions posed by colleagues. This means that I am now working on two important speeches to Parliament for the week. I join colleagues from across government who are working on the Disability Review. This important piece of work has taken many months to prepare and is due to be announced shortly. I work late into the evening drafting my speech for tomorrows debate.
Wednesday 9th June After a busy set of meetings with other education ministers I head off to the House of Commons for the debate. Throughout the afternoon I listen to the contributions from MPs. In my summing up there is a lot of good news that I want to emphasise; over the past decade the standard of education in England has improved considerably, the changes that were introduced to support children’s language and teaching of phonics has helped lift early reading skills and the “attainment gap” between those form better off backgrounds and those from lower incomes has narrowed considerably. Of course the pandemic has brought huge challenges, but there is record investment going into all our schools, as well extra investment for social services, holiday activities and food, and the £3 billion catch up and recover funding will support over 100 million sessions of small group and one on one tutoring. We know that this type of tutoring has a huge impact for those who need it. There is also substantial investment going into skills and apprenticeships, and the kick start program has helped over 200,000 young people start a new job. Sadly, recessions often impact on young people most and I will never forget back in 2010 when under the last labour government nearly a million young people were not in employment, education or training. These skills and jobs investments that the government have introduced during the pandemic are really vital and making a difference.
I meet with medical experts and those wanting to raise awareness of the risks to small children and babies of choking of food items. It is sadly very much more common than many parents and carers think and I am busy writing to all nurseries and preschools with clearer advice on how to prepare food safely – please do cut those grapes and strawberries into small pieces and make sure items like bananas, sausages and carrots are in sticks not rounds. It can be a life saver. I meet the “experts by experience” group who are helping support the Care Review. This is a very impressive group of volunteers who bring their own experience of being in care, or being carers to this important piece of work.
The evening finishes with an online meeting answering questions from a group interested in policy on health and education.
Thursday 9th June I listen to the early morning news about the Ofsted review on Child Sexual Abuse, and finalise my statement. As it is a Ministerial Statement it needs to be 100% clear and I will need to read it word for word since it sets the formal Government response and action. This is the first time I have ever given such a statement and I will need to follow up by answering questions from MPs in the Commons. On the way to Parliament I take time to do some radio and TV interviews, I want to raise awareness of the issue. Sexual abuse is abhorrent. Yet the issues of sharing nude images, non consensual sexual contact, accessing online porn, sexism and misogony have become all too common place. We need to change the cultural dial. This means everyone working together. The statement sets out actions we will take as government to support teachers and the school designated safeguarding leads, who so often do a phenomenal job.
Our new relationships, health and sex education curriculum will help teach children and young people about health relationships and how to recognise and get support if a relationship is unhealthy, it teaches about respect, privacy and consent. Many schools are already teaching this well, but many teachers have also asked for further support and training in delivering this curriculum, and I want to make sure they get it.
We are continuing to fund a specialist NSPCC helpline for those who want support, and asking police, health and social services in every local area to review how they work with schools. The Online Safety Bill will give the highest protections for children, ensuring social media companies have to put in processes to protect children from the most harmful content. I also ask parents again to focus on the issues, make sure your broadband filters are on, and that the safety features in your child’s phone are active. There is a huge amount of good advice for parents out there, especially from organisations like the Safer Internet Centre, NSPCC and the Internet Watch Foundation. After the statement I call many of those who are helping on this work, including the NSPCC, the Children’s Commissioner, the police senior safeguarding lead and the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
Friday 10th June My Chelmsford day starts with a very cheerful online assembly with a group of Year 8 students from Boswells School, followed by a complex series of meetings as we work to resolve the cladding issues facing one of the developments in Chelmsford. My first “face to face” constituency surgery for a while is a delight – while the matters residents raise are often challenging it is good to be able to help. My week ends with a fascinating discussion with representatives from Essex Cricket. The club does such excellent working supporting communities and young people all across the county but also in East London and wider across the East of England. The county ground needs investment and updating, but is such an asset to our city. Later this summer the eyes of the international sporting media will be focused on Chelmsford when India comes to play England. Raising funds for improvements to stands and areas for players will be a massive task but must be achieved if we are to keep the ground as a world class sporting venue.