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Education And Science

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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Education Reform

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate he has made of the effect of the proposed national curriculum on the percentage of students who go on to university.

The national curriculum aims to improve the quality of education for all our pupils and we expect more to go on to college, polytechnic and university.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as Britain is seventh in the league table of nations sending their students on to university, arid with approximately 15 per cent. of the student population going forward at the moment, compared with 44 per cent. in the United States, one of the main aims of the Education Reform Bill should be to get more students into university?

Yes. I have already set the ambitious target of increasing the number of students by 50,000 in the lifetime of this Parliament. Since we have been in office we have increased the number of students in higher education by more than 160,000. My hon. Friend is correct: the level has increased from one in eight to one in seven. Our aim is that by the end of the century one in five school leavers will go on to higher education.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a national curriculum is no use without proper tests? Will he also confirm that the emphasis will be on proper written tests and not on some form of airy-fairy assessment which may be far from consistent between one local education authority and another?

I shall be pleased to send my hon. Friend a copy of Professor Black's report, which recommends that there should be assessment and testing at the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16. He specifically refers to pencil and paper tests and gives examples of those. My hon. Friend will be glad to know that Professor Black also recommends that the results of the tests should be published—not the names of the individual children—so that parents can assess the performance of schools.

Has the Secretary of State explained to the Prime Minister that her desire for crude pass-fail tests in the national curriculum would not only lower educational standards but would require a vast army of external examiners and invigilators, which would cost a great deal more than Professor Black's proposals? I assure the Secretary of State that so long as he fights hard against the Prime Minister and the other forces of darkness in this area, he has our full support.

I do not think that I want that sort of support. As the hon. Gentleman knows, debates on such matters are vigorous and robust, and now sometimes public. However, all decisions taken on such matters are collective decisions.

I am glad that in Committee the Labour party did not vote against any of the clauses on the national curriculum or on financial delegation, and it virtually approved open enrolment. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman did his duty, but basically he knows that we are right.

Funding Councils

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take steps to ensure that women are represented on (a) the Universities Funding Council and (b) the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council.

The desirability of securing a reasonable proportion of women members is certainly a factor that my right hon. Friend will be considering in making appointments to the higher education funding councils.

I am glad to hear that reply. At the moment the proportion of undergraduates who are women is encouragingly high, but does the Minister accept that the presence of women on the funding councils would help to secure a better representation of women undergraduates on the courses on which, up to now, they have been very much under-represented?

Members will be appointed for their individual contributions and not because they belong to any particular representative group. It is upon that basis that my right hon. Friend will be making his recommendations.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that colleges with a religious basis, such as St. Martin's in my constituency, are enabled, within the fund, to maintain their ethos and religious basis?

We are extremely concerned to ensure that voluntary colleges will have representation that will reflect their wishes and encapsulate what they want within those colleges.

As 44 per cent. of all students in full-time higher education now are women, surely it would be more representative if the Minister agreed that half the membership of the funding councils should be women, so that their interests are properly represented?

No, that would be quite improper. It is absolutely essential that the membership of the funding councils should comprise people who are best qualified to be representatives. If those people happen to be women—certainly my right hon. Friend will be anxious to ensure that there is proper representation of women on the funding councils—that will be most satisfactory from all our points of view.

Does my hon. Friend owe her position on the Front Bench to her ability, or to the fact that she is a woman? If the former, will she make sure that, when she appoints people to the funding councils, they also owe their positions to ability, irrespective of gender?

Heriot-Watt University

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science, pursuant to his statement on 29 February, Official Report, column 722, what representations he has received from Professor Des Smith FRS, head of the department of optical and laser physics at Heriot-Watt university, about the impact on that university of the new selective criteria for funding research.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Robert Jackson)

I discussed this matter with Professor Smith when I visited Heriot-Watt university last October, and he subsequently sent me the university's comments on the ABRC document, "A Strategy for the Science Base". Professor Smith and I exchanged further letters on the ABRC's proposals last month.

What is the future for the improving departments of a small university?

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the question of how the principle of selectivity and concentration on scientific research should be carried through into the universities. Professor Smith supports that principle. There is an argument about the means and whether it should be done by university, by department or by subject area. That, of course, is a matter upon which the Government have yet to make a decision.

What support is being given specifically to Professor Smith's work in optical computing? That work opens up new technology that simply does not fit in with the Government's scheme of things.

I shall have to come back to the hon. Gentleman about the specific question of opto-electronic technology. I have been to see Professor Smith's work, but I do not recall the exact figure of allocation. The allocation of funds to universities by research councils is a matter for the universities and the research councils.

Student Grants

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he now expects his review of higher education student funding to be completed; and if he will make a statement.

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he now expects to publish a consultation document on the matter of financial support to students in higher education.

The work of the student support review is expected to be completed by the middle of this year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things about the review is that nothing is done to discourage the participation in higher education of students from lower-income families, and that nothing is done that would create a particular obstacle to graduates who wish to pursue careers in less well remunerated professions?

I agree with my hon. Friend. In the review that we are undertaking the point of access is very important. I made it clear earlier that we want to increase the possibility of access for many of our young people. Compared to other countries, we are not doing well enough in that regard. It is noticeable that for a long time in most of those countries which have had a system of loans working with grants such a system has not discouraged access.

Does my right hon. Friend have any evidence about the proportion of students who do not receive their full, assessed parental contribution?

This matter is of considerable concern to many students. A survey commissioned by my Department on undergraduate income and expenditure — to be published shortly—has shown that, in 1986–87, 40 per cent. of dependent students failed to receive the full assessed contribution due from their parents. That is an area where a loan system could help considerably.

Can the Secretary of State advise us whether the review took into account the implications of the poll tax for students?

The review is considering the whole range of expenditure by students and their sources of income. The survey upon which I have just commented covers the whole range of income and expenditure.

Does the Secretary of State recall that a few years ago the Tory Government decided to meddle with student grants and the net result was that literally thousands of students, many from middle-class families, came to Westminster to protest? They blocked Westminster bridge, without any provocation from people such as myself, and the net result was that the Tory Government had to back off. Is he aware that if he starts the process again, not only will those students come down to Westminster to lobby, but they will carry out the same exercise and we on the Opposition Benches will support them to the hilt?

I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman putting himself at the head of a middle-class march. The proposals upon which we are working in the review of student support will bear particularly upon the parental contribution, and one of the advantages of loans is that they may substantially reduce the contribution that parents have to make.

Whatever my right hon. Friend's decision, does he agree that higher education is a great privilege that brings great opportunities later in life?

I would agree with that. It is a considerable advantage to go to one of our universities, polytechnics or colleges. There is a growing recognition, supported by the practice in other countries, that students benefit considerably from higher education, so it is reasonable and fair to require them to make some contribution to it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, coming on top of all the testing times that he has had with the Prime Minister, it is a crying shame that there should be more reports of Cabinet rows and defeats for him, this time on the issue of student loans? However, if he presses ahead with his scheme to replace grants with loans and to cut student grants, that is bound to deny educational opportunity and access to thousands of students from less well off homes, and it will be fought tooth and nail inside and outside the House. Now that he has been rolled over by his colleagues on ILEA and on student loans, will he tell the House when was the last time that he succeeded in Cabinet Committee?

The review is being conducted by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson)—previously by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) — and myself, and any decision will be collective. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in other countries, where there is a combination of grants and loans, a higher proportion of young people go to universities, polytechnics and colleges. The review will be published in the summer, and I have a lively expectation that it will be possible to find time for the early implementation of such an important policy.

Pupil Costs

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what increase has been made in real terms in the spending per pupil in primary schools in each year since 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Bob Dunn)

Between 1979–80 and 1986–87 spending per pupil in primary schools in England increased, in real terms, by 26 per cent. I shall arrange for the full details to be published in the Official Report.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he confirm not only that we are improving spending per pupil, but that pupil-teacher ratios in the same schools are also improving dramatically?

My hon. Friend is right. The Government's strong record is supported by other objective measures. Overall, pupil-teacher ratios in January 1987 were 17·3: 1 compared with 18·9: 1 in January 1979, and as a result average class sizes have been improving in primary and secondary schools.

Has not spending on primary schools taken place despite, rather than because of, Government spending? Do not the figures show that Government expenditure on primary schools has dropped one fifth, while local government expenditure, frequently in defiance of Government policy, has increased by 50 per cent.? Is it not cynical and disreputable of the Government to seek to claim the credit for expenditure which they have not made and which they frequently opposed?

The hon. Member ought to look at the facts. He ought to be aware that we have increased spending by £1·3 billion in the next financial year. If he looked at the facts he would realise that these changes have been brought about over nine years in succession.

Can my hon. Friend say how much is being spent in primary schools on books and equipment, and how that compares with previous years? Will he tell us what his forecast is for the next financial year?

My hon. Friend's question is quite appropriate. The Government's plans for increased spending of £1 billion in cash provides scope for local authorities to increase their spending per pupil on books and equipment by nearly 40 per cent. in cash compared with actual spending in 1985–86.

Order. May I ask hon. Members to listen to questions and answers arid not to carry on private conversations?

Does the Minister realise that, despite what he has said about an increase, which is totally insufficient, there are not enough books in the primary sector? Schools are using dog-eared books. When the members of the Select Committee went to the plushy, leafy areas in the south they found that parents could treble the capitation allowance by adding their own money to it. Rate-capped councils in downtown areas of east Sheffield could not possibly do that. Why does the Minister not admit the truth — that there is insufficient money to educate our children properly in the primary sector?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was becoming moderate as time went on, but clearly that is not the case. He ought to know that how local authorities spend their money is for them to decide. They have to compare the priorities that they have to meet.

Is my hon. Friend able to give any indication of how administrative costs in education may have risen over the same period?

All authorities owe it to their ratepayers to offer the best value for the substantial investment in education. They need to review their policies from time to time, first, to remove surplus school places, secondly, to cut the cost of school meals, caretaking and cleaning and, finally, to keep a tight rein on the cost of administration and bureaucracy.

Following is the information:

Net Institutional Recurrent Expenditure Per Pupil

1

Primary Schools—England

Year

Expenditure Per Pupil

2

Year on Year Increases

£

Percentage

1979–80710
1980–81765557·7
1981–82790253·3
1982–83810202·5
1983–84830202·5
1984–8583550·6
1985–8684050·6
1986–87895556·6

1 Net institutional recurrent expenditure covers the cost of salaries and wages, premises and certain supplies and services. It does not include the cost of school meals, central administration and inspection, debt charges or revenue contributions to capital outlay.

2 The cash prices for the earlier years have been repriced to 1986–87 prices using the gross domestic product (market prices) deflator.

Pen Tops (Safety)

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received concerning the implications for safety in schools of the current state of pen top safety.

In addition to the hon. and learned Gentleman's own representations, I have received, and replied to, a letter from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs on the subject. My Department has also answered correspondence from Mr. and Mrs. Walker, who are the hon. and learned Member's constituents, and whose son, Billy, tragically died last October after accidentally swallowing a pen top at his school.

Is the Minister aware that the Walker family, and thousands of people who have signed a petition calling on the Government to take action, consider that unless and until pen tops are banned from schools so that no more children unnecessarily die, as Billy did, and no more children are operated on in hospital, as so many are, there can be no hope for greater safety? What steps is the Minister proposing to take at least to encourage schools to take this basically simple safety measure?

I can tell the hon. and learned Member that my Department is preparing a letter giving advice to all local education authorities in the light of expert comments received on a draft consultative document. It is likely to recommend that any pens with detachable tops that are issued for use in our schools should have the tops removed before being issued to pupils, and that authorities may wish to give early consideration to changing either to pens with tops that cannot normally cause asphyxiation if swallowed or to one-piece pens that do not carry this safety risk. I undertake to keep the hon. and learned Gentleman informed of developments as they emerge.

Equal Opportunities

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recommendations his Department has made to local education authorities to promote equal opportunities in primary and secondary schools.

No specific recommendations have been issued to local authorities to promote equal opportunities in schools. Local authorities are bound by the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and the Government are firmly committed to equality of opportunity in education, as in other fields.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is she concerned that equal opportunities policies are being abused by some Left-wing councils? Is she aware that a poll conducted last year among parents in Brent showed that parents felt that the council believed that its sex and race policies were more important than its teaching? Is she happy that the appalling abuses of the so-called race snoopers, so graphically shown on the BBC "Panorama" programme last year, have now been brought to an end?

Brent's development programme for race equality is currently the subject of an independent assessment by Sir David Lane. That assessment was commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to help him to determine whether the local authority should receive grant under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1986 towards the salary costs of the programme.

At the same time, HMI has been conducting an inspection of the work of the development programme for race equality in Brent schools. Reports from both Sir David Lane and HMI should be available after Easter. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's query.

Order. I appeal to hon. Members sitting below the Gangway not to carry on conversations across the Chamber. It makes it very difficult to hear.

I am very disappointed at the Government's response. They are not making any commitments on what they will do to ensure that in future girls, and those from racial minorities, receive an equal chance in schools. What are the Government going to do to ensure that the national curriculum and testing arc operated in a way that will enable those groups to have a fair chance?

In the remit letters to the working groups on the subjects for the national curriculum we have asked for special attention to be paid to the importance of ensuring that girls are offered exactly the same opportunities and choices in subjects as boys, to make certain that the future work force—both girls and boys—receives suitable opportunities.

Does my hon. Friend accept that much more research is required? In some subjects, such as handicraft, metal and wood, girls do as well as boys, and they also apply themselves in other subjects such as home economics. However, although boys enjoy cooking and eating the food that they produce, they take no interest in diet and do not follow the subject to a suitable academic level

My hon. Friend is right. We still need to make some progress to ensure that there are equal opportunities for boys and girls in all subjects offered in schools. Equality is very important, particularly for girls. They should be encouraged to take up subjects such as engineering. We have taken particular care to examine the recommendations of organisations such as the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Does the Minister agree that equal access to the same curriculum must be supported by in-service equal opportunities training if the Government's declared objectives are to be met? Or are the Government ready to be hauled yet again before the European Court of Justice because of breaches of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975?

The hon. Lady knows that teaching institutions are required to follow the equal opportunities legislation, and also not to practise any kind of sex discrimination in their courses.

Higher Education

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has for increasing the number of places available to students in higher education; and if he will make a statement.

The Government remain committed to the principle that places should be available for all who have the necessary intellectual competence, motivation and maturity to benefit from higher education and who wish to do so. We are confident that our expenditure plans provide for institutions to meet this demand.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is a major pillar of his Department's policy that higher education should be made widely available to every 18-year-old or other person who wishes to seek it? Will he also confirm that major progress is being made towards the commitment to increase the numbers in higher education by 50,000 by 1990?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Important progress is being made. I have some interesting figures on student numbers and participation rates under the present Government compared with what happened under their predecessors. Between 1975 and 1979, participation fell by 9·5 per cent. and numbers rose by only 4·3 per cent. Between 1979 and 1986 participation rose by 12·9 per cent. and numbers rose by 18·9 per cent. under this Government.

Will the Minister confirm that if the growing numbers of students from outside the United Kingdom want to take advantage of further education in the United Kingdom under the EEC directive, students in the United Kingdom will not be penalised and there will be enough places for them if they are qualified?

There is room within our system for people to come from other countries of the European Community and we benefit from reciprocal arrangements with those countries. At the moment the traffic is more or less equal.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is considerable evidence that people entering higher education at a much later age than 18 frequently get more out of it than 18-year-olds? If he does, will he confirm that he will do everything in his power to make it easier for such people to achieve access to higher education, which is so important?

My hon. Friend has touched on an important theme. By the middle of the next decade there will be a reduction by a third in the number of 18-year-olds in our population and it will be necessary, as well as desirable — as my hon. Friend said — to increase participation by mature people and part-time students.

Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to attract mature students and make it easier for them to get into higher education, instead of leaking stories about student loans, which would clearly make it difficult for them? What will he do to develop access courses and provide proper grants for mature students so as to attract them and to fulfil his policy of making a larger proportion of the student population consist of mature students?

I have already described the enormous expansion of higher education under the Government. On the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about loans, it is interesting to make international comparisons. They are difficult to make—[Interruption]—but, comparing the United Kingdom with the Federal Republic of Germany, we see that the average value of a loan paid to a student is £2,000 a year, and roughly 15 per cent. of new entrants to universities are from manual working class backgrounds, whereas in Britain, which has no loans and the most generous grant provision in the world, only 6 per cent. come from manual working-class backgrounds—[Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to the House once again to listen to Question Time. These are important matters of great concern to hon. Members and to people outside.

Aids

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what support he is giving to the Medical Research Council for research into AIDS-related dementia.

The Medical Research Council has two sources of Government funds for AIDS research. It receives earmarked funding, starting with £3·5 million in 1987–88 and rising to £8 million in 1989–90. It supports additional AIDS research from its general grant.

The Minister's answer means not a lot. Does he realise that advances in areas such as this would be less likely to be made were it not for pure research, which the Government are curtailing? Does he realise that this is the unglamorous end of the research market, which is less likely to receive funds from voluntary bodies? The Government must therefore do much more about it.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of pure research as the basis for the good work that is being done by our scientists in this and other fields. As she will know, the matter was debated in the House last week, and I am sorry that she was not able to participate in that debate. If she reads it she will find the answer to her question contained in the speeches made by my right hon. Friend and myself.

Developing the point on basic pure research, will the Minister inquire into the three-year project grants of the Medical Research Council? Why is the number of such grants that are approved but not funded increasing over the years, despite the fact that the level for approval is also rising? Will the Minister inquire into that? As he realises, this is the seedcorn of basic scientific research and it is being hampered under this Government, so may we have an inquiry into this issue within the Medical Research Council?

I shall certainly write to the hon. Gentleman after having inquired, but the administration of its funds is a matter for the Medical Research Council. It cannot be a principle that all projects for which funding is requested will be funded. The council must make some judgment and exercise discrimination.

City Technology Colleges

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much it will cost to build the city technology college in Nottingham; how much of the cost will be met by the Government; and if he will make a statement.

The cash limit for capital expenditure on the Nottingham city technology college is £9·05 million. This covers the cost of land, fixed furniture, equipment and professional fees as well as the cost of building. My right hon. Friend has agreed, exceptionally, to underwrite up to 85 per cent. of this figure. He is confident that the Nottingham CTC trust will contribute more than its minimum share of the capital costs through additional sponsorship.

Is the hon. Lady aware that there are 565 schools in Nottinghamshire, which have a capital programme now of £2·7 million as a result of the cuts instituted by the Government, and that more than £9 million is to be spent on imposing a CTC on the city of Nottingham? Is that because the hon. Lady cannot do her arithmetic, or is it because she is putting one college above the educational needs of all the children of Nottinghamshire?

The advantages that the city technology college will bring to the city of Nottingham and its environs are immeasurable. It will produce a large number of opportunities for good education for children who apparently are not able to receive that education at present. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the expenditure is well justified.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that, with 20,000 unemployed in Nottingham, it will be a small price to pay for the children's future?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the education that will be received in the CTC will greatly improve the opportunities for employment for all the young people who are fortunate enough to participate in the education there.

Does the Minister recall the DES document that launched the CTC initiative, which said that the promoters would meet all or a substantial part of capital costs? Why, then, in the case of Nottingham is there such a shift in policy? Why are the Government meeting 85 per cent. of capital costs?

Sadly, it is because the local authority refused point blank to be co-operative in the matter of a building. In those local authorities where there has been co-operation in the matter of a building for the technology college, it has been perfectly possible for the Secretary of State to adhere to the original proposals.

Education Reform

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the proposed national curriculum and the feasibility of implementing and maintaining it.

We have received over 10,000 responses to our proposals. A number of these raised questions about the implementation of the national curriculum. Our decisions on the phasing of its introduction will take account of all relevant factors.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposed introduction of a national curriculum, particularly the inclusion of science as a core subject, is being widely welcomed? I acknowledge that we are producing more science graduates now than we have for many years, but is my right hon. Friend confident that there will be enough science teachers to ensure that science is properly taught as a core subject?

My hon. Friend is right. There are about 30,000 more students studying science in our polytechnics and universities than when we took office. But I am concernd about the shortage of science teachers, particularly in physics. We have a bursary scheme of an extra £1,250 a year for those who want to study physics teaching, and I am glad to say that there was a sharp increase in the number of students for that scheme last year—an increase of 40 per cent. We need several years like that.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in Committee the Minister of State, his hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), undertook to provide for me the details of the teachers who would be required in each of the disciplines in order to implement the national curriculum? Will he tell me when I may expect to receive that information?

We have in hand a review of this and we shall have the figures later this year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern felt by some head teachers that in the preparation of pupils for scholarship at the university entrance the time taken by the core curriculum might leave too little time for some of the other specialist subjects?

I am concerned that the foundation core curriculum should not take up too much time and exclude such important subjects as a second foreign language, a second and third science, and religious education. That is why we are not being prescriptive and saying that the curriculum should take up a particular amount of time. We think, broadly, that it will take up about 70 per cent. That leaves a day and a half a week for the other subjects.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in foreign language teaching—and in craft design and technology—there is likely to be a shortfall of teachers? Does he propose to increase funding in those areas to make sure that we have not just teachers, but suitably trained teachers, to make sure that these very difficult subjects are taught adequately to our children?

Courses are also available for student teachers in craft and design technology. I am also concerned with the potential shortfall in foreign language teachers. Over the next two or three years we shall be using education support grants, together with our in-service training grants, to deal with some of these problems.

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the religious education provisions of the Education Reform Bill; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend and I have received many representations from hon. Members, Church leaders and others about religious education and the Education Reform Bill. The Bill reinforces the existing law on religious education, reflecting the Government's determination to sustain the position of religious education in the school curriculum.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she confirm that the provisions of the Bill, as well as strengthening religious instruction in our schools, will make it easier for parents to protect the Church voluntary aided day schools in their aims, which are under attack from councils controlled by the Opposition?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Education Reform Bill contains provisions substantially to strengthen the position of parents and will enable their voice to be heard when local authorities propose to take action against voluntary aided schools.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the last resort, the effectiveness of religious education depends on the commitment of the teachers?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct in saying that the effectiveness of religious education depends very much upon the effectiveness of the teachers. I can assure him that the place of religious education in the curriculum is very secure under the provisions of the Education Reform Bill, because it continues to be a compulsory subject for all children to study.

Assisted Places Scheme

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the total number of assisted places in (a) 1980–81 and (b) 1987–88.

In the academic year 1981–82, when the assisted places scheme was first introduced, a total of 5,596 places were available in England and Wales for pupils entering the scheme at the various ages of entry. In 1987–88 there is a total of 34,005 places available for take-up in the scheme throughout the secondary age range.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures show just how much the Government have done for parental choice in allowing children to go to schools where they will be able to have the education that they need? Will he say how many children have been given the opportunity to go to schools where they can be given special opportunities to study ballet and music?

I welcome my hon. Friend's endorsement of the excellent scheme. Since September 1987 some 499 pupils have gained places under the aided pupils scheme. This scheme deals with music and ballet, in which my hon. Friend is interested.

How, when the Government are prepared to spend £4,000 per year on some children for some assisted places, can they regard the expenditure of 60 per cent. of that sum in ILEA schools to be overspending?

That comment is entirely worthy of the hon. Gentleman. It is because of the ideological hatred of the scheme that we are determined to make it work and see it extended over a period of time.

Student Grants

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what adjustment will be made to the level of student grants, in view of the Government's poll tax proposals.

Students' liability to pay 20 per cent. of the community charge will be taken into account in reaching decisions on the future level of student support from public funds. Grant rates for the 1988–89 academic year have already been announced and the Government have no plans to make any adjustment to them.

Since students will be liable to pay at least 20 per cent. of the poll tax, which in some areas will amount to more than £100 a year, will the Minister give an absolute guarantee that students will be fully recompensed by an appropriate increase in their grant? Is he aware that, otherwise, many students will respond to the poll tax demand simply by telling the Government, "We can't pay, so we won't pay"? Who could blame them for refusing to stump up for a blatantly unjust tax which is an attack on the living standards of students and most other people in Britain?

The decision to extend an 80 per cent. relief to all students for their share of expenditure from which they benefit has already been made. The question whether there should be compensation for the 20 per cent. obligation is one that remains to be dealt with. Meanwhile, in Scotland, for one term, it will be necessary for students to pay their contribution to the community charge.

Education Reform

18.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received regarding the impact of the Education Reform Bill upon Catholic schools.

A substantial proportion of the correspondence which my right hon. Friend has received about the Education Reform Bill has mentioned the possible impact of the Bill upon Catholic schools.

Can my hon. Friend clarify the position on open enrolment in Catholic schools, about which some concern has been expressed?

I am happy to do just that. The Education Act 1980 relieved the governors of a voluntary aided school from the requirement to admit pupils whose parents wanted them to attend the school, if such admissions would run counter to agreed arrangements designed to safeguard the school's denominational character. The Education Reform Bill does not change that position.