Not all members of a parliamentary committee vetting the appointment of an academy chain leader as England’s next children’s tsar thought her suitable, it has been revealed.
The Commons Education Select Committee has given its support for the appointment of Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of Inspiration Trust, as children’s commissioner – but it was not unanimous.
Committee chair Robert Halfon said: “While we recognise that Dame Rachel has had a prominent career in education, latterly as leader of an educational trust, not every member was wholly convinced in her vision and grasp of several of the major issues that she will need to champion as children’s commissioner.
DfE's first choice: Rachel de Souza to be next children's commissioner
“Whilst the majority of the committee were satisfied that she is a competent candidate and is appointable, her evidence before us highlighted several deficits in her knowledge and experience, which she will need to address as soon as possible.
New children's commissioner has 'deficits in knowledge'
“In particular, we were concerned at the candidate’s apparent lack of knowledge of some areas relevant to her new role. Key among these were in the fields of children’s social care and fostering and adoption, youth services, the youth justice system, child and adolescent mental health services and the wider immigration system.”
The MPs have recommended that Dame Rachel prioritises engaging "with a range of organisations across the areas where she has less direct experience".
But they also recognised her "strong experience in education and her work in disadvantaged communities".
"We also appreciated her ambition to hear the voice of every child in making her recommendations and a commitment to vocational and technical qualifications, skills and apprenticeships," Mr Halfon said in a letter to eduation secretary Gavin Williamson, who has now appointed her to the role.
Other concerns from the MPs included the fact that Dame Rachel was "unable to outline a position on key issues for children’s rights, such as when questioned about her views on banning corporal punishment in England".
"We are also concerned that she did not explain fully how she intends to use evidence to challenge and inform the work of government," Mr Halfon added.
"We are concerned that Dame Rachel faces a steep learning curve in taking on this complex role that serves all children in England."
Dame Rachel said: "It is a great honour to be the next children’s commissioner for England. For many years I’ve been a passionate advocate for children and young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"The Inspiration Trust has done some fantastic work to support young people in Norfolk and north Suffolk, delivering an excellent education so that they can achieve their potential and flourish. As children’s commissioner, I’m looking forward to standing up for children across England."
Mr Williamson said: "It’s my pleasure to confirm Dame Rachel as the next children’s commissioner for England. She has spent her career protecting children’s most important right – the right to an excellent education.
"She has a wealth of experience in improving the outcomes for thousands of children in under-performing schools and working with families in a diverse range of disadvantaged communities."
Dame Rachel succeeds Anne Longfield, former chief executive of the charity 4Children, in the post.