The Big Ask: The Big Answer!

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can we ‘level up’ our education system across England?

Post-pandemic, The Big Answer is important reading and a route map for educators and policymakers across England.

The new Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, commissioned one of the largest young people’s surveys across England. The 58-page report was published in September 2021, with 577,000 young people responding to the questions asked or outlined below:

  1. How happy children are with a list of different aspects of their lives at the moment.
  2. The most important things for them to have a good life in the future.
  3. What they are most worried about in the future.
  4. Whether they think will have a better life than their parents when they grow up.
  5. What they think needs to change to make their lives better in future.

Survey Methodology

The survey was available to any child in England age 4 to 17 years old and was launched online between April and May 2021, running for six weeks. It was publicly available, anonymous and voluntary. I’d be curious to learn how the report could stop someone like me from inputting any data…

The methodology provided (reassures the reader) that every ethnic group and the most deprived neighbourhoods, as well as the most affluent, are represented in the data. The information is broken down by age, gender, ethnicity, school type, and local area characteristics. The key results are divided by the following topics:

  • Family life
  • Children and the community
  • Health and well-being
  • Schools
  • Work and,
  • Life and care.


You can read the report to discover the key findings from each of the above topic areas. For the purposes of this blog, I have focused solely on the school section.

  1. There were 557,077 responses from children in England age 4 to 17 years old
  2. Children from 151 (from 343) English local authorities responded
  3. Of the responses, 3,800 children in care responded and another 13,000 children who have a social worker.
  4. 6,000 responses were from young carers
  5. 5,200 children responding attend special schools
  6. Nearly 26,000 children receive mental health support
  7. Over 97,000 children have an additional learning need and over 2,200 are supported by youth offending teams
  8. I was pleased to see 2,300 children from a Gypsy or Irish traveller background responded.

The Big Answer Children’s Commissioner for EnglandThe research reports that 52 per cent of 9 to 17-year-olds said that having a good education was one of their top future priorities. Higher in children from deprived backgrounds (57%) compared to children in more affluent areas (49%). As an educator, I am somewhat surprised and disappointed to see that this figure is so low.

Thankfully, 84 per cent of the same age group were ‘happy’ or ‘okay with life’ at school or college. Our work as teachers (as ever) is finding new ways to improve the wellbeing of students who reported being unhappier

Interestingly, children living in more deprived areas or attending schools rated ‘inadequate’ were more likely to be unhappy with life at school. You know my views on the reliability of graded Ofsted inspections, but this particular data should provide all educators with a clear focus regarding where our priorities should be.

It is interesting that the report does not mention that those schools rated ‘inadequate’ are also more likely to be in more deprived areas where education funding has been limited.


Despite the pandemic, it is reassuring to read that vulnerable children, particularly those with SEND or those awarded pupil premium, were more likely to say that education was important to their future plans.

Further reassurances are provided in the report, highlighting what impact the lockdown had on our young people, as well as acknowledging the hard work that all teachers achieved despite the challenging circumstances.

Catch-up funding is discussed, as well as funding for the better safety of women and girls being outside. Level 3 qualifications are also highlighted, apprenticeships and so much more.

My takeaway message resonates from a quote taken by a young person quoted in the final paragraph: “Children from lower-class backgrounds [who are] trying to achieve something bigger than themselves.”

This is a great start by the new Children’s Commissioner. I hope Rachel uses her expertise, knowledge and her new role to challenge politicians and the powers that be to better fund our state schools – and be a thorn in their side.

As ever from me, we cannot have a world-class delivered on a shoestring budget, and we certainly cannot ‘level up’ if our most disadvantaged young people are hindered. A key question I keep returning to is: Do you want all children to succeed or just some? I am still surprised by the answer to this question from some people…

Download the report.

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