The Guardian view on a children’s manifesto: families need more from ministers | Editorial

Opening schools at weekends for sports activities is one of a list of demands to which politicians should pay attention

Children, says the government-appointed commissioner charged with representing their interests in England, lack a voice in politics. As a result, their interests are too often “subjugated to the interests of others”, or lost down the cracks between departments.

The latest report from Anne Longfield – the third holder of a post created following Lord Laming’s public inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbié – is styled as a manifesto. And why not? Its authors know a general election is coming.

Mental health, crime and poverty are the big themes, with a much-enhanced role for schools identified as the most likely remedy for a whole bundle of social ills that have, over a decade of austerity, made life much worse for a very large number of children. Rightly, Ms Longfield declares that we (that is, adults) “should be ashamed” at the conditions many are living in. She calls for an additional £10bn per annum in spending, overseen (since this new cash would be spread across departments and councils) by a new cabinet committee.

In line with her duty to focus on vulnerable children, new funding for the “troubled families” programme – which is due run out in 2021 – comes top of the list. The £700m recently promised for special needs in schools is briskly noted to be less than half of the £1.8bn required. Such demands for increased spending should be listened to. Even if they are rejected by the present government, as seems likely, they should embolden politicians of other parties to frame policies so as to emphasise the importance of investing in the young. It may be a truism to say that a nation’s children are its future. But it still needs saying.

Ministers have chipped away at the pastoral aspects of education, with their relentless emphasis on accountability and results leaving little room for broader aims such as wellbeing and community cohesion. But even they recognise that schools have a role in promoting mental health. New training for teachers on how to spot problems was among Theresa May’s final announcements. Ms Longfield wants the government to go further, putting NHS counsellors in every school.

An eye-catching proposal to link up schools with neighbourhood police should be rejected. Evidence suggests that involvement with the law at a young age makes later convictions more rather than less likely, with growing concern surrounding the role of school exclusions. And while she recommends bringing youth workers into schools, there is a good argument for dealing with youth services separately. But broadly speaking, the call for schools to be more open places in which professionals other than teachers can engage with children and families is a sound one. So is the call for schools to open in the evenings and at weekends, if (and only if) such moves are funded properly. School and work timetables are badly out of alignment. Flexibility on the part of employers is part of the solution, but pupils as well as parents benefit when schools offer after-hours sports and arts clubs (often the preserve of the better-off).

Any such schemes will face stiff competition for resources under this or any government. One of Ms Longfield’s predecessors, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, last weekend sounded the alarm over nurseries, where there has been an alarming drop in qualified staff. He is right that early years policy is in urgent need of a reboot, but Ms Longfield is also right to emphasise the harm caused by poverty to young people of all ages, including older teenagers. Politicians of all parties should pay attention.

• This article was amended on 13 September 2019. An earlier version misnamed Victoria Climbié as Anna Climbié.

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