Sunday, 25 July 2010

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. OUT! OUT! OUT!

I’ll admit that politics hasn’t been top of my agenda since the change of government, but I couldn’t let the review of the Children’s Commissioner pass by without comment.

It was to be hoped that, this time, the cries of “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out. Out. Out.” would be heeded by a Tory government, but alas, with the political situation being what it is, we shall have to wait and see whether the coalition will have the balls to give Maggie the boot when the *independent* review presents its findings in November. In the mean time a little recap, along with a catch up, is in order I think.

Back in March I wrote this post which detailed some of the interesting connections between the various players in the HE Review, and the way that they appeared to link up to the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq. There are several mentions of Maggie Atkinson in that post which will be making a reappearance in this one, and whilst this post should stand alone, you might want to have a skim read of the earlier post to get an idea of the wider picture.

The review into the role of the Children’s Commissioner for England [CC] was announced on July 12th following “a furore over insensitive remarks by the current commissioner over the killing of James Bulger.” (Daily Mail article) This is not the first time Ms Atkinson has courted controversy in her role as CC: her appointment to the role was extremely controversial, with her champion, Ed Balls, thumbing his nose at the advice of the Select Committee charged with interviewing for the post, who felt that they were:

"unable to endorse her appointment, as we would like to have seen more sign of determination to assert the independence of the role, to challenge the status quo on children’s behalf, and to stretch the remit of the post, in particular by championing children’s rights." (opens Select Committee report PDF)

I find Barry Sheerman’s comments on this matter very interesting, and deeply concerning:

"When pushed... she said she would not champion children's rights, her role was to be the voice of children. We found it difficult to see how she could do one without the other."

If this article is anything to go by, I find her assertion that she would be the voice of children rather hollow.

On July 23rd Ms Atkinson told the TES that she had been given the nod that her role is safe, and that “she believes that the review could even STRENGTHEN her powers.” (my emphasis)

Consider that “the powers the Commissioner does have exceed those granted to parents under the terms of the legislation. Parents are not mentioned in Part One of the Act, so although the Commissioner is required to consult organisations working with children in the discharge of his functions, he is not obliged to consult parents. Similarly, he has the power to conduct interviews, or authorise someone else to do so, with a child in private, subject only to the child’s consent.” (opens PDF)

Personally, I think the role, and therefore Ms Atkinson, has far too much power already, and that it needs reining in, not strengthening. Have a look at this video where Maggie describes your children as her children, and see how comfortable you feel with her having this much power. It sends shivers down my spine. Perhaps it was a well meant comment, but it’s not one that I think anyone who is a parent would make.

Another concern regards the duties of the CC, which according to the Bill that enacted the role are:

“monitoring complaints procedures for children, overseeing arrangements for children’s advocacy, monitoring legislation to ensure that the needs of children are taken into account, overseeing child death reviews and carrying out inquiries into major child abuse cases and child deaths; and to make provision to ensure that the work of the Commissioner is compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the

Looking at these duties I believe the Select Committee was absolutely right to question whether Ms Atkinson would be able to “assert the independence of the role”.

Ms Atkinson was formerly the Director of Gateshead Children’s Services, and head of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS). In her role as CC she now “oversees child death reviews and inquiries into major child abuse cases and child deaths”.... So when a child dies, or suffers abuse enough to result in a serious case review, Ms Atkinson will be overseeing it, it would seem. I am struggling to see how it would be possible to trust the outcome of such reviews given Ms Atkinson’s close affinity to the people who are “accountable for the outcomes of every child in an area.” (Ministerial speech (opens Word Doc) to ADCS 2008 conference) It would surely be a conflict of interests?

In 2009 Gateshead Safeguarding Children Board held a serious case review after Child D was hospitalised with a fracture and malnutrition. The SRC found that the issues investigated were “primarily a failing on the part of Children’s Services”. One cannot help but draw parallels with the Khyra Ishaq case. The person in overall charge of Gateshead Children’s Services in 2009, was Ms Atkinson, as DCS.

I’m struggling to comprehend how then, as the head of a failing Children’s Services involved in a serious case review, she managed to land the role of Children’s Commissioner.

Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the Teflon coating these people seem to have. Let’s for a moment move our attention to Graham Badman who, only last week in a matter unrelated to home education, was described by a Conservative MP as being “Ed Balls’ henchman”. (I think this is also what Michael Gove was inferring about Atkinson when he said “that Atkinson had been appointed to three government educational roles in the past and that in each post she had been "a consistent supporter of government policy".) (Guardian Article)

In 2008 a little girl called Tiffany died at the hands of her father. As this Telegraph article explains: “Kent County Council, which deals with up to 20,000 referrals from children's social services, conceded that an independent review of the case had identified a "missed opportunity" within children's social services to share information.” The Director of Children’s Services in Kent at the time was Graham Badman, and yet he was tasked with carrying out a serious case review into the death of Baby P! As John Dunford (yes, the same man who is conducting the review into the Children’s Commissioner) said in this Guardian article:

“directors of children's services have "the job from hell", responsible for everything that happens to children in their area.”

But they know that when they take the role on, and if they aren’t prepared to carry the can for their failings then they shouldn’t be in post.

Of course Badman’s gravy train came to an abrupt halt with the change of government, his pet quango being one of the first to be killed off in the cutbacks making quite a hefty saving of £75 million. If the role of Children’s Commissioner were abolished, it would only save £3 million so perhaps the government will decide that it is worth keeping to avoid any potential posturing about a lack of concern over children’s rights. Something I think Ms Atkinson was hinting at when she said in the TES article that:

“there were children's commissioners or ombudsmen in every other UK country and in most European and Commonwealth nations and that cutting the post would put England in an "absolutely unique" position.”

I hope that the government will not be swayed by such veiled threats, and instead look very closely at the damage someone with Ms Atkinson’s history could do to parent/child and state/parent/child relationships, particularly if they do as she seems to want and grant her more power.

John Dunford says at the end of the Ministerial Letter announcing the review:

“I look forward to leading this important review into the role and functions of the Children’s Commissioner. I will be looking with an open mind about the best way to give young people a voice and protect their rights. That is why it is important that I talk to young people themselves to hear their views about the best way to represent them.
I will also be talking to a wide range of children’s groups, people working in education and children’s services, and looking at successful practices in other countries.”

I think that there might be rather a lot of Home Educated children who would like to tell Mr Dunford their views. You can respond to the consultation here, if you or your child feel up to taking part in yet another government consultation process that is...

With thanks, as ever, to EK for providing the information and the much needed push to create this post!


  1. Brilliant work ! . The woman is dangerous and how do they reconcile the fact that they effectively hand her parental rights to do with children as she will, when, in a few years those children will be the parents whose rights she steals?

  2. Thanks for this, Tech. Yes, the voice of 'two words' Atkinson earlier today made me feel quite ill. A good reminder and wake-up call to respond before these megalomaniacs gain even more power! Their softly softly 'it's for the children' reminds me of all the deceptive baddies in fairy tales :(

  3. Another brilliant piece of investigation and analysis, Tech. Thanks so much for this.

  4. Fantastic post. Thanks Tech.

  5. I find it terribly sad that your misinformed blog is so critical of the Children's Commissioner for England who has an incredibly improtant role to play representing children's views and interests to decision-makers.

  6. Oliver would you like to detail what you see as misinformation?


    This is relevant I think :/