Man who stood up for youngsters

26th January 2007 at 00:00
A look back at the work of children's commissioner Peter Clarke

Tributes were paid this week to a man who is best known as a true champion of children in Wales. Peter Clarke died last Sunday morning after a long battle against cancer, aged 58. His wife Jenny and his two sons were by his side.

Mr Clarke was the first appointed children's commissioner in the UK. Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said he would be a hard act to follow.

She said: "I particularly pay tribute to his determination in ensuring children's voices are heard loudly by policy-makers."

Mr Clarke will undoubtedly be remembered most for his controversial deliberations in the Clywch inquiry. He came up with 31 establishment-rocking recommendations after his own investigation into allegations of child abuse at Ysgol Gyfun Rydfelen, a Welsh-medium school in Pontypridd.

Using his independent powers to the full, he exposed the alarming extent of a cover-up that led to the sexual crimes of former drama teacher John Owen, now deceased, escaping justice while leaving his young victims deeply traumatised during the late 1980s and 1990s.

The Clywch report's recommendations are still in the process of being put into practice. But children will probably remember their champion as the man who listened to them and their calls for better facilities and treatment.

He was big on mutual respect and did not believe in the bad press surrounding the so-called hoodie, often blaming politicians and the press for any disrespect in society. His campaign for better school toilets came about as a result of countless visits to schools and children's constant complaints of unsanitary and drab conditions.

Mr Clarke was incensed that health and safety rules covered teachers'

toilets but not those for children.

His desire to see young people being heard led to the school ambassador scheme, ensuring schools had articulate pupil representatives who could voice concerns. One of his major reviews for 2007 was to be on bullying, something he said needed to be tackled as a priority across Wales.

He did not shy away from attacking professionals, even teachers. In his last annual report, he claimed all employees in frontline services should start listening to and learning from their customers - children.

He said badly handled bullying cases, accusations of a lack of respect from teachers and children not being listened to accounted for more than 40 education-related calls from parents, children and others in 20056. He was scathing in the report, saying that services to benefit children "were not for the convenience and comfort of adults and organisations providing them".

A former director of ChildLine Cymru, Mr Clarke was appointed to the post of children's commissioner on March 1, 2001.

Peter Black, Lib Dem chair of the education, lifelong learning and skills committee, called Mr Clarke "a remarkable communicator and persistent fighter".

Jan Leightley, director of children services at children's charity NCH Cymru, said: "Peter's place in the history and development of social justice and support for children is secured."

* An online remembrance board is being set up on the children's commissioner for Wales website at www.childcom.org.ukenglishindex.html

Leader, page 26

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