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Stuart Gallimore: The Brexit focus risks creating a lost generation

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“This will be known as the lost generation, because nothing is happening except Brexit,” was the recent verdict of Mara Airoldi, director of the Government Outcomes Lab, speaking to the Guardian about the state of public services.

Two and a half years have passed since Britain voted to leave the EU, but many questions remain unanswered. We know little about what it means for children and their families – particularly the most vulnerable – not to mention the NHS, the economy and housing.

Brexit has overshadowed many areas of domestic policy and getting concrete decisions from Westminster that aren’t followed by phrases like ‘Brexit permitting’ is rare. At the time of writing, the way forward for the country remains unclear.

As Brexit continues to consume the attention of ministers and civil servants, what of the domestic agenda?

There are significant pressures facing children and the services they rely on. Since 2010 funding for local authorities has been cut in half whilst the level and complexity of need in our communities is growing. Last year the government sought views on key issues relating to children and young people’s education, from updated guidance on elective home education to exclusions.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services welcomes the renewed focus on these areas. To date, we still await responses from government to both the consultation and the publication of the independent review into exclusions. As directors of children’s services, we are concerned about this lack of progress and what it means for children and young people and their future outcomes.

According to the association’s estimates, somewhere in the region of 78,400 children and young people were home-schooled at some point during the 2017-18 academic year. Greater awareness of home education, rising birth rates and improved recording by local authorities may account for some of the reasons for growth in this cohort. But some children are falling through the gaps, being encouraged into home education in a way that means it isn’t a positive, informed choice.

These are only the children that we know of and there are likely to be many more hidden from our sight. Without a requirement on parents who educate their child at home to register with the local authority we have no way of knowing the true numbers or of adequately supporting children and their families.

This makes no sense when juxtaposed against the decision to fine parents for taking term-time holidays. Education is fundamental right for all children and young people. At the most basic level we should know how many children are being educated at home, whether they are receiving a good standard of education and that they are safe.

The increase in exclusions in recent years is of equal concern. Being excluded is rarely in a child’s best interest yet 40 children a day were excluded from school in 2016-17, up from 35 in 2015-16 and 30 in 2014-15. Sadly, children on free school meals are more vulnerable to exclusion than their peers, as are children with special educational needs and disabilities, learners from some black and ethnic minority groups and children in care.

As Brexit paralysis continues so too does the urgency for focus and attention on a whole range of domestic policies. We await crucial decisions that will have a direct and lifelong impact on the lives of children and young people. Not the least is if austerity’s end is in sight, and whether our public services will receive the funding we so desperately need.

Stuart Gallimore, director of children’s services at East Sussex CC and president, Association of Directors of Children’s Services 2018-19

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