MPs refuse to back Balls' 'children's champion' choice

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, faced embarrassment last night after a group of MPs refused to endorse his chosen candidate to become Britain's latest "children's champion".

The Independent has learnt that the cross-party Schools Committee has unanimously decided not to back the appointment of Maggie Atkinson as the next children's commissioner. The decision, which will be officially announced today, was said to have infuriated Mr Balls. The commissioner is tasked with speaking up for vulnerable children.

The rubber-stamping of Dr Atkinson's appointment by the committee was meant to be a formality, but concerns arose during a "pre-appointment hearing" last week, when Dr Atkinson suggested that she did not see the position as a campaigning role. The MPs felt that in the wake of the Baby P case and damaging revelations about Doncaster children's services, it was essential that the next commissioner used the appointment to campaign for better support for children.

Mr Balls last night announced he was pressing ahead with the appointment despite the committee's decision, declaring that Dr Atkinson would be a "strong, effective and independent voice for the children and young people of our country".

Dr Atkinson became the director of children's services in Gateshead in 2003, before serving as president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services until March 2008. She heads the National Expert Group on the Children's Workforce.

A spokesman for Department for Children, Schools and Families said Dr Atkinson had been endorsed after an independent recruitment process and selection panel. "On the basis of this advice, the Secretary of State nominated Maggie Atkinson as the Government's preferred candidate," he said.

*Mr Balls has opened a consultation on plans to allow summer-born children to start school at the age of four, giving them up to two extra terms in school.

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