Conservatives MPs have failed in bids to amend the Education and Inspections Bill to give councils more explicit duties towards disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs (SEN).
An amendment tabled by shadow schools minister Nick Gibb would have required councils to raise the educational achievement of the most disadvantaged children.
But it was defeated by 14 votes to six after Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the standing committee on the bill backed schools minister Jacqui Smith in rejecting the Conservatives’ position.
Smith told the committee that the education reforms had a “particular focus on disadvantage”. Putting the word “disadvantaged” in legislation would bring “considerable legal challenges in defining what is meant”, she added.
Gibb also failed to amend the bill to ensure councils’ education services contribute to the well-being of children with regard to the five key outcomes in the Children Act 2004. And another of his amendments, which would have given councils a duty to secure a “range of provision” for children with SEN, also failed. Committee members voted 13 to nine against the amendment, which was backed by the National Autistic Society and the RNID.
Smith said the amendment was unnecessary because councils were already required, under the Education Act 1996, to ensure that special educational provision was secured for pupils with SEN.
But Gibb told Community Care that this duty “clearly isn’t working”. “There’s a massive lobby out there to get those children, even those with severe learning difficulties, into mainstream schools,” he said.
“The best way to resist that is to have it on the face of the latest education bill.”
Amanda Batten, head of policy and parliamentary affairs at the National Autistic Society, said parents of children with autism wanted a range of local SEN provision. “We believe this amendment would have encouraged more specialist resource bases and joint working between schools and it was good to see the minister recognise the importance of this in the debate.”
The Conservatives are considering tabling the amendment again when the bill reaches its report stage next month.