Margaret Elizabeth Atkinson (born 16 September 1956) is an English educator and the former Children's Commissioner for England. After a career in teaching, she moved into public service administration, initially in education, but later in Children Services. Her appointment and tenure as Children's Commissioner was notable for a series of controversies.
Early life and education
Atkinson was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Educated at Pope Pius X RC High School, Rotherham, and Mexborough Sixth Form College, she graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1978. She received her teaching qualifications at Sheffield University in English, history and drama.
She spent 10 years teaching in two different schools, becoming Head of English at Birkdale High School in Dewsbury. She became a National Curriculum regional co-ordinator in Yorkshire, before taking a variety of curriculum and children's services roles in local authorities across England.
Atkinson was appointed Children's Commissioner in March 2010, Following a lengthy selection process, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, announced that Atkinson was the preferred candidate to be put through the vetting process in front of the newly created Education Select Committee. But the committee rejected the appointment forcing Balls to override their wishes by appointing her over their objections.
Her tenure was marked by occasional high-profile reporting in much of the press. In 2010, Atkinson wrote to Denise Fergus, mother of Jamie Bulger to apologise for the hurt caused by Atkinson's remarks on the age of criminal responsibility. Atkinson had said in an interview that she believed the current age of criminal responsibility in England was too young at 10 years of age, and that it should be raised. During the interview she referred to the events surrounding the death of Jamie Bulger as "exceptionally unpleasant". Fergus called for Atkinson to be sacked.
A report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner in England in 2013 warned that many schools are conducting unlawful schemes of exclusion for some poorly behaved pupils and suggested that schools should lose funding if they were found to have such policies. Controversially, the report concluded that schools should reduce all forms of exclusion and should cease excluding students altogether for minor offences like breaking the school's uniform policy.
In December 2013, in an interview with The Independent newspaper, Atkinson made clear her personal view that parental smacking of their children should be made illegal. The response by the government was that they had no wish to criminalise parents for issuing a mild smack, while the NSPCC welcomed the commissioner's comments.
In December 2013, Atkinson was a member of a team of Keele graduates appearing on a Christmas Special edition of University Challenge, answering questions on Andy Murray's first Wimbledon win and Hull as UK City of Culture. Keele beat the University of Aberystwyth by 140 points to 90 in the program.
- Dr Maggie Atkinson
- Children's commissioner nominated
- "House of Commons – Children, Schools and Families Committee – Eighth Report". House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
- Speaker bio
- "Former Dewsbury teacher in job row". Dewsbury Reporter. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
- Dr. Maggie Atkinson: Themes and Biography
- Maggie Atkinson, ADCS boss
- Balls overrules committee of MPs to appoint new children's chief
- Ed Balls defied Parliament to appoint Maggie Atkinson – now they must both resign
- Weaver, Matthew (17 March 2010). "James Bulger's mother gets apology from Maggie Atkinson". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
- Paton, Graeme (24 April 2013). "Prosecute teachers 'for imposing backdoor exclusions'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
- Dugan, Emily (27 December 2013). "Smacking children should be illegal, says Children's tsar Maggie Atkinson". The Independent. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
- Keele University to appear on University Challenge
- University Challenge[dead link]