Too many young ‘falling through the cracks’ says council scrutiny chair

Sophie Conway Pic: Hackney Labour  

Too many young people in Hackney are falling through the cracks of mainstream education and more should be done to ensure their safety and well-being, a leading local councillor has urged.  

Hackney Council needs the Government to make the legislative changes required to ensure every child receives a complete education in the borough, Sophie Conway, the chair of the council’s children and young people scrutiny commission said in an interview with Eastlondonlines.  

“There is a large number of children in the borough for whom we know very little about as they’re missing from mainstream education. If we don’t know where these children are or what they’re doing-we’re unable to be satisfied that they’re safe.”

“My goal is to press Hackney Council officers and the scrutiny commission, to continue to lobby national government for the legislative changes the council needs to ensure the safety, wellbeing and education of all children in the borough.”

Conway knows how badly Hackney suffers from deprivation and poverty issues which affect the lives of chilldren. She was born and raised in Hackney and still lives in Homerton.

Despite becoming a single mother at 17 and failing her GCSEs, Conway persisted in her education and went on to study sociology at Goldsmiths in Lewisham. She became a Hackney Central Labour councillor in 2016 when she was 31.  

Sophie Conway and Hackney Central Labour Team campaign Pic: Sophie Conway 

Conway said: “While I was at university I decided to volunteer for my local MP, Dianne Abbott [the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington] Not because I wanted to get into politics. I was interested in politics and wanted to understand more about how politics in the UK worked.”  

“After spending much of my 20s studying and being a single parent to my daughter, I decided I would get a job. because I was fed up with struggling financially. My first real job was working for a start-up education charity that I helped to set up.”   She then decided to volunteer for a school exclusions project and represented excluded pupils and their families at school exclusion hearings.  

“The experience I had gained in this role was truly transformative. These were young people who had experienced significant trauma and were struggling to navigate their way through transitioning from children to adults with limited or no family support and disrupted education.”  

Conway became active with the local Labour party and campaigned in local and national elections. ”Within less than a year of being active I decided to put myself forward as Labour candidate for Hackney Central. This was a no brainer for me. Hackney Central was where I’d grown up, I figured very few people would know or understand the ward and its residents better than me.”  

Sophie Conway being re-elected as Hackney Central councillor alongside Labour group colleagues

Originally tweeted by Sophie Conway (@SophieConway84) on May 7, 2022.

Since then, Conway advocates for the rights of children excluded from school, those with special educational needs, care experienced young people and young parents.  As chair of the scrutiny commission, she also holds the Mayor and executive accountable on issues such as adolescent care, school exclusions, and unregistered educational settings. 

“I try to be a democratic and inclusive chair of the scrutiny commission that I chair. The topics that the commission looks at are largely determined by members of the commission, local residents and community groups who all respond to an annual consultation inviting people to suggest ideas for the work programme. I then work together with the commission to decide which topics we feel we will be able to add most value to. Recently we looked at free school meals and food poverty.”  

“Food poverty being high on the agenda at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis seemed like a good topic to look at. The commission and I met with schools in the borough to understand the challenges they were facing and to hear the solutions they were exploring and what more they wanted from the council.”  

“This resulted in formation of FSM task force who have been taking a holistic approach to looking at what more Hackney Council can do to support schools to bring down the cost of school dinners, increase uptake of free school meals and to support schools to get out of. With scrutiny you have the scope to look at issues in quite a lot of depth.”  

Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville campaigning for Sophie Conway and Hackney Central Labour team Pic: Sophie Conway 

Conway said her role has allowed her to conduct work on care leavers and housing, foster carers, independent commissioning of specialist school placements and how she continues to strive for more.  

“What was interesting for me about advocacy is that your role is to be the voice of someone else. Which means you have to suppress your own voice. That can be really challenging. Especially when you don’t agree with what the person you are working with wants you to advocate for them for.”  

“I felt a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that through building a rapport with my clients, the two of us could work together, to strengthen their voice, ensuring that they were heard, and their needs met.”  

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