In tackling educational disadvantage by personalised learning, the government should have strong regard to children with special educational needs, according to a report from the parliamentary select committee on education.

In its response to the education white paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, the committee welcomes the government’s proposals to provide more individually tailored education, but sounds a note of caution on implications for pupils with special educational needs.

The committee records concerns from witnesses within its enquiry that children with special educational needs should not be excluded from their rightful entitlements as a result of proposals made in the white paper. In particular, they should not be disadvantaged by admissions policies and unintended consequences of new school structures. For example, the report notes how some city academies have not always been willing or able to operate effective or equitable admission policies in respect of children with special educational needs.

Monitoring equitable admissions policies

The report suggests that local authorities could have a key role in protecting the interests of parents and their children with special education needs. It recommends that trust schools proposed in the white paper and others be given the duty to operate equitable admission policies for children with special educational needs across the local authority area. The performance of schools in this regard should be monitored by local authorities, who would report to the schools commissioner to produce an annual report to parliament and to the DfES. Local authorities should have a duty to establish benchmarks for the social composition of school intakes.

The schools commissioner should have responsibility for strategic oversight of the admission process and of the way in which schools discharge their wider social responsibilities on social segregation. The commissioner should also have regard for how trust schools spread good and cooperative practice across their local authority area and that their admission policies should not disadvantage children with special educational needs, and monitor the effectiveness of local authorities in statutory duties to this effect.

Enhanced role for local authorities

The commissioner role which the government sets out for local authorities appears to consist of the traditional role of oversight of local requirements with some enhanced responsibilities over school standards, and responsibility for specific services such as special educational needs, as well as the coordinating role on the Every Child Matters programme. Given that they retain their provider role for so long as community schools remain in being, the report argues that the role of local authorities will be enhanced by these proposals rather than diminished.

Gifted and talented and SEN

Concerns are expressed about proposals on the gifted and talented programme. The committee makes the point that some children, particularly on the autistic spectrum and for example with Asperger’s Syndrome, can have abilities that bring them into a high intelligence/gifted and talented category. Their needs also have to be specifically addressed in personalised learning.

Diversity and segregation

There are concerns that diversity leads to greater social segregation. The committee think that any such segregation is not the result of diversity per se, but of the way in which children are admitted to those schools. A concern is that the operation of choice tends to lead to a movement of pupils away from schools in the inner city towards those in the suburbs, yet it is in the urban areas that schools are most necessary as a community resource and where the extended schools initiative is most likely to bear fruit. It recommends that the government develops its proposal to provide extra funding to those areas with the lowest levels of prior attainment by pupils entering secondary school by seeking a means of providing extra funding for individual pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report recommends that the DfES needs to provide more detail on its plans for funding personalised learning, and in particular how it will ensure that funding is used for its intended purpose. The department also needs to give much more careful consideration to the changes in Initial Teacher Training and the amount of in-service training that will be required to make personalised learning a reality.