asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many applications he has now received from schools wishing to take part in the assisted places scheme; and whether he has ruled out any of the applicant schools.
In reply to the Department's letter of 6 December, 460 schools in England have indicated interest in the scheme on a provisional basis. These replies are still under consideration.
Is it not still the case that, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman has weeded out the schools that are not up to the standard that he has set for the scheme, he will not have enough places to meet his target? In view of the rather ungracious comments made by the Prime Minister about Lord Butler, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make it clear whether Marlborough has applied to become part of the scheme and, if so, whether it has been accepted?
I realise that there are certain schools that have applied which may be unable to satisfy the criteria that we have set. That does not mean that I am not satisfied that the number of applications that we have had will more than meet the numbers we are considering. In fact, 118 of the 120 previous direct grant schools have applied. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. The whole purpose of the scheme is to give to a wider area of parents the opportunity of a higher academic education at certain of the old direct grant schools which were forced to go independent by the actions of the Labour Party.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend nail the lie that has been put about by the Opposition that the assisted places scheme is actually going to cost money by telling the House how many thousands of millions of pounds the country would save if every child in the country went on the assisted places scheme?
If my hon. Friend wants an answer to that question, he will have to table it. Those who will be covered by the scheme would otherwise be educated at the total cost of the taxpayer within the maintained sector.
Is it not a fact that far fewer schools have applied for the scheme than the Minister expected—indeed, massively fewer, if I may use that adverb. Does that indicate that, even in Tory areas, comprehensive education is now accepted as a high form of education? Is this not a reality with which he is having to grapple? Will he not have to weed out some of the schools that have applied, with the result that he will have still fewer than he expected?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I repeat that of the 120 direct grant grammar schools in England which are in the process of becoming independent, 118 have asked to join the scheme.