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Education Vouchers

Volume 181: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consideration he is giving to the use of education vouchers as a means of extending choice to parents.

We have no plans to introduce a voucher scheme for schools. We have already extended parental choice through our policies of ensuring that schools admit pupils up to the limit of the schools' physical capacity.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. I presume that he remains loyal to his beliefs when it comes to choice. Does he agree that had he remained loyal last Wednesday, Back Benchers would have had the freedom to choose the leader whom they wanted—the Prime Minister?

First, the Prime Minister and I and my hon. Friend are all agreed that the purpose of education policy is to extend parental choice and then to make sure that taxpayers' money follows that choice into the schools. We have achieved that aim in the policy of education reform on which we have embarked. It makes the need to introduce vouchers—once considered—redundant. I certainly voted for the Prime Minister last Tuesday when a large number of my colleagues did not. I have absolutely no doubt that whoever succeeds the Prime Minister will adhere to the policy of improving choice in schools, putting better resources into our schools, following parental choice and raising education standards.

Of what benefit would education vouchers be to parents who face teacher shortages, particularly in London? Did the Secretary of State see last night's television report or read in this lunchtime's Evening Standard that 1,600 teachers in London have left schools in the past two months, which has affected the education of tens of thousands of pupils? Is not it a fact that it is not education vouchers but poor pay and low morale that are the real reason why parents, pupils and teachers get a rotten deal from the Government?

There are particular problems in London, but we shall shortly be discussing teachers' pay when we debate the Bill that is on the Order Paper for today. During the debate I shall reveal that not so many people have entered initial teacher training for the first time since the late 1970s. The vacancy level in our schools has come down sharply this autumn and the teacher wastage rate is very low. Therefore, we are introducing the Bill to enhance still further the attractiveness of teaching as a career and to get teachers of the quality that we require. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about one thing only: that vouchers have no relevance whatever to the important task of raising the morale of our teachers and getting teachers of the quality that we need.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider vouchers for nursery education? Low-income and one-parent families experience difficulty in finding kindergarten and nursery schools, but expansion of choice could be achieved by a voucher scheme.

I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestion, with others made about nursery education provision for the under-fives. We have ruled out vouchers for statutory schooling between the ages of five and 16 because of our excellent system of reform, which achieves all the purposes for which vouchers were originally devised by the inventor of that notion.