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16 To 18-Year-Olds (Awards)

Volume 972: debated on Tuesday 23 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about provision of maintenance grants for 16 to 18-year-olds in full or part-time education.

The Government have no plans to alter the position on 16 to 18-year-olds' awards, either by introducing a mandatory scheme for the age group, or by removing the present freedom of local education authorities to pay maintenance grants to pupils and students over compulsory school age, at their discretion and from their own resources.

Is the Minister aware that a substantial number of young people who gained good O-level results this summer left school to take dead-end jobs because they realised that it would cause too much financial difficulty for their parents if they stayed at school? What does the Minister intend to do to stop this waste of national resources and, in view of the economic climate being created by the Government, to encourage local authorities to make more grants available to pupils aged between 16 and 18?

The hon. Gentleman's record on this subject has been consistent over the years, but we made clear in opposition that we were opposed to the pilot scheme proposed by the previous Government. As to the longer-term plans for improving awards for the 16 to 18 year-olds, we believe that the case for any change in the present arrangements will receive attention during the review of the relationships between the school, further education and training which the Government are undertaking against the backgrounds of our public expenditure policies. We announced in the summer that we would continue that review period. As soon as there is any announcement to make, I shall see that the House hears it.

Is the Minister aware that in my city of Manchester we are pursuing our own endeavours to encourage young people to stay on for higher education and A-levels, but we have been informed by the Department of Education and Science that if maintenance allowances are made by my city part of the grant will be offset, thereby prejudicing the chances of those children taking advantage of the benefit and staying on at school? Would it not be more sensible if the Secretary of State spent £70 million on our own education system instead of on independent bursaries?

The hon. Gentleman should know by now that the financial support for the assisted places scheme does not come from the cuts announced by the Government some weeks ago. When he refers to Manchester as his city, I think that he should realise that he is sharing it with a few more people than himself.

Manchester city council has announced its own mandatory awards scheme, but the simple fact is that the ratepayers of Manchester will have a good opportunity to assess some time next year how effective and successful the scheme has been.