The government has backed down over a key aspect of its education reforms by proposing to give councils with the best-performing children’s services an automatic right to bid to set up community schools.
The move follows opposition, particularly from the Local Government Association, to plans in the Education and Inspections Bill to give the education secretary a veto over councils’ bids.
Council chiefs have been concerned that the bill’s focus on independent trust schools will make it more difficult for authorities to secure adequate education for all children, particularly the most disadvantaged.
Schools minister Jacqui Smith said last week that councils with the top score of four in the annual performance assessment of children’s services would not need the education secretary’s permission to make a bid. There are currently 11 councils with the top APA score.
However, Smith told a standing committee debate on the bill that three categories of councils, including those with the lowest APA score of one, would not be allowed to propose a community school.
John Chowcat, general secretary of the Association of Professionals in Education and Children’s Trusts, welcomed the news, saying he had “never accepted the presumption against new community schools”.
In other committee proceedings, a Liberal Democrat amendment was defeated. The amendment would have abolished existing provisions allowing the secretary of state and local authorities to opt out of providing education for young people detained under court orders.
Junior education minister Phil Hope said “detailed duties” on the education of children in prison were already in place.
The Youth Justice Board has a service level agreement with the Prison Service requiring each young person in young offender institutions to receive an average of 25 hours’ education, training and personal development activity a week.