Social media, mental health and 5 other issues which need action, according to the children's commissioner

14th November 2017 at 11:50
Children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield gave evidence at the Commons Education Select Committee.
Anne Longfield wants more Opportunity Areas to improve social mobility – including the North East

The Children's Commissioner for England has supported calls for the government to review the impact of social media on the mental health of young people.

Anne Longfield was giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee this morning, as part of its series of hearings on accountability, which have so far included education secretary Justine Greening and Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman.

Ms Longfield also told MPs that action was needed in a number of other areas to improve young people's lives including:

1. Wellbeing in schools

Ms Longfield told MPs she wants schools to be judged on the wellbeing of their pupils, as well as their academic attainment. She said: "I am concerned we measure attainment ad infinitum, but we don't measure well-being". 

2. Mental health and social media

Ms Longfield supported calls from committee chairman Robert Halfon for the government review the impact of social media on the mental health of young people. She raised concerns about problems young people have accessing mental health support, saying some had told her that feeling suicidal was not enough: they had to attempt to kill themselves.

3. Opportunity areas

The commissioner said it was too early to assess the success of the government's flagship Opportunity Areas, designed to improve social mobility in 12 "cold spots". However, she said she welcomed place-based initiatives and would like to see more Opportunity Areas created. Pressed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, she called for one to be created in north-east England.

4. Cyberbullying

Ms Longfield called for social media companies to do more to tackle cyberbullying. She said that while she was not one to go straight to new legislation, new laws could be necessary, particularly highlighting the ability for children to report problems.

5. PSHE

Ms Longfield welcomed the government's commitment to make PSHE compulsory and said the need for it was becoming clearer by the day. She said she there was an "urgency" about the plans for this to be put in place and said that the subject should include digital literacy.

6. Exclusions and behaviour

The commissioner said she would be looking at alternative provision and home education.

“We are seeing children wholesale moving out of schools, especially those with special educational needs. There will always be children who will need specialist provision, but at the moment this is something that seems to be benefiting schools more than the best interests of children," she said.

Ms Longfield added: “I have had phrases used to me by local authorities such as ‘schools are gaming the system’, and that is a really dangerous position to be in.”

She also said she agreed with Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy after she raised concerns that some school behaviour policies were "riding roughshod over the rights of the children".

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