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Assisted Places Scheme

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the present local education authority recoupment charge for secondary school education; whether this figure includes any allowance for capital element; and what is the comparable full cost of a school place in a typical independent day school likely to participate in the assisted places scheme.

The recoupment charge for the financial year 1979–80 is £715 for pupils aged 11–16 years and £1,155 for sixth form pupils, both figures including an allowance for capital costs. I understand that in January 1980 the average day fee at direct grant grammar schools—which we expect to provide the core of the assisted places scheme and which have all indicated their interest in joining it—was about £900, at Head Masters' Conference schools the day fee was £1,200 and at Girls' Schools Association schools about £1,000.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures indicate that the scheme is remarkable value for money, especially as it does not take into account the contribution that some parents will be making?

Rossendale is the valley in which I was privileged to be born. It seems that the sense of those in that valley is as strong now as it always was.

I recognise that the Government have a strong interest in various transfer fees. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that recoupment costs are only one of the ways of measuring unit costs in education? Does he accept that whatever is spent on the assisted places scheme is extra money spent in the most favoured part of the education system? As all the teachers' unions and other experts have forecast, it will result in the creaming-off of the most able pupils from the maintained sector and the threatening of the viability of sixth form courses. In view of the continued disputation over these matters, will he prevail upon his right hon. and learned Friend to publish the results of the study of the National Children's Bureau, which demonstrates conclusively that more able children are not penalised by being in the maintained sector?

It is up to the National Children's Bureau to publish its survey. As I understand it, the Government have provided the money for publication. I am sure that the report will be studied by hon. Members on both sides of the House when it is published and that they will join in battle in the Chamber. I remind the House that all the assistance that we are putting into the scheme will go to parents who could not otherwise afford to send their children to the schools within the scheme.

The hon. Gentleman says "Nonsense". That indicates that my statement is hurting. Let me remind him that 30 per cent. of British families will be able to let their children participate in the assisted places scheme without paying a penny, if their children pass the examination; 43 per cent. will be assisted and the 27 per cent. in receipt of higher incomes, including Members of Parliament, will have to pay the full fee. If the scheme is operating against the working class, I should like to know what is operating for the working class.

Did my hon. Friend note the remarks of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) when he congratulated his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) on getting his second child to Ampleforth?

The ex-direct grant schools and many of the independent schools are superb academic schools. I do not blame anyone for wishing their children to go to them. We want a system that will enable the children to go to these schools who can gain most from them, irrespective of their background.