children's commissioner

Prominent academy trust boss Dame Rachel de Souza is to be put forward by the government as their preferred candidate to be the next children’s commissioner, Schools Week has learned.

If the appointment is approved, the chief executive of the Inspiration Trust will take over when current commissioner Anne Longfield’s six-year term ends next February.

The job of the children’s commissioner is to promote the rights, views and interests of children in policies or decisions affecting their lives.

The choice of de Souza is likely to be controversial given her links to the Conservative party. The trust she runs was founded by the Conservative peer and former academies minister Lord Agnew.

Former education secretary Michael Gove also once said his “ideal education policy would be to clone Rachel 23,000 times”.

She is also a director of the Parents and Teachers for Excellence campaign group alongside Conservative donor Jon Moynihan. The group was orchestrated by Gove allies James Frayne and Rachel Wolf.

Inspiration trust also has a patchy track record on inclusion.

The trust admitted the number of pupils moving to home education from one of its schools was “too high” after an Ofsted investigation into potential off-rolling found their response was “flimsy”.

An investigation by the Guardian also found the trust had among the highest numbers of pupils leaving its roll.

Longfield has called for a compulsory register of “off the grid” children, stronger measures to tackle off-rolling and that schools should be held to account for excluded pupils. She also pledged to publish home education figures for every school.

In a later press release confirming our story, education secretary Gavin Williamson said it was “more important than ever before to have experienced and dedicated colleagues working with us in a shared ambition to protect and defend the most vulnerable children”.

“I look forward to finalising the appointment of Dame Rachel de Souza as the next children’s commissioner, where she will bring her considerable experience of raising outcomes for every child to this essential role.”

The academy chief will attend a pre-appointment hearing before the education select committee, with a date yet to be set. Following the hearing, the committee will publish its recommendations which Williamson will consider before deciding whether to finalise the appointment.

de Souza said it was a “great honour” to be nominated. “Throughout my whole career, I have been a passionate advocate for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and finding ways to support them so they can realise their potential and flourish.

“We all know just how difficult Covid has been for families up and down the country, and – subject to the appointment being approved – I would very much like to play my part in helping level up opportunities for children, and ensuring their welfare, everywhere as we come through this difficult time and look towards a more positive future.”

The children’s commissioner serves a six year term. Longfield will continue in her role until 28 February.