HC Deb 12 December 1978 vol 960 cc221-3
10. Mr. Bryan Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects a national scheme for mandatory educational maintenance allowances to operate.

11. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to introduce a national scheme for mandatory grants for young people staying on at school after the age of 16 years.

24. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she now expects to introduce a national scheme for mandatory educational maintenance allowance.

Mr. Oakes

The timing of the introduction of a full national scheme of mandatory awards for 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education remains to be decided in the light of experience with the pilot programme covering selected volunteer areas, planned to begin in September 1979, and of the outlook for public expenditure at the time.

Mr. Davies

The Minister will realise the disappointing nature of that reply. Has the Department carried out any detailed analysis of the number of children who are likely to be deterred from staying at school, particularly those from poorer families, because of the absence of educational maintenance allowances? How do the Government intend to make up for that deprivation?

Mr. Oakes

I assure my hon. Friend that research has been carried out. We share his disappointment that we cannot introduce a full-scale scheme immediately. Such a scheme would cost £110 million in a full year. However, it is hoped that the present scheme will not only provide useful incentives in important areas but will provide us with much more valuable information when the scheme is actually working.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I shall call, first, those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister accept that very large numbers of children—especially those of poor parents—are literally being induced to leave school at 16? They are not getting the opportunity—just as the Prime Minister said that he did not have the opportunity in a similar situation—to go on to university. Does he also accept that we should make very serious attempts, despite the laughter of Tory Members, who all had chances of higher education, to encourage our children to stay on at school, and not induce them to leave and be immediately unemployed? When this scheme comes, could we have it without a means test?

Mr. Oakes

It would not be possible to introduce the scheme without a means test—certainly not in the foreseeable future, anyway. I share the assumption of my hon. Friend in this matter, and I think that the pilot scheme will prove that both of us are right.

Mr. Bennett

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is the Government's priority, as soon as public expenditure is available, to make this a national scheme?

Mr. Oakes

It is certainly one of our highest priorities.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is it not a better priority for £110 million of public expenditure to ensure a better education for those who are at school up to the age of 16?

Mr. Oakes

Of course that is also our aim—to provide the best possible standards. But certainly Labour Members, and many Conservative Members, too—see a real need to induce many poorer children to stay on at school. Many now leave simply because of poverty.

Mr. Heffer

Despite having to look at representatives of higher education on the other side of the House, does the Minister accept that higher education is essential and necessary? Does he agree that the national executive of the Labour Party, which is not liked by Conservative Members, has been pressing the Government to go ahead with the scheme as quickly as possible in order to ensure that there are no anomalies such as those that exist at the moment, where youngsters go on the dole because they cannot afford to stay at school? Some youngsters take TOPS courses, but many who would like to stay at school cannot do so because of lack of financial assistance.

Mr. Oakes

The Government treat this as a matter of the highest priority. It is envisaged that the scheme would provide about £7.50 in an award which, together with the £4 child benefit, would bring the youngster up to the same level as he would receive on supplementary benefit.

Mr. Carlisle

Is it the Secretary of State's intention that the pilot scheme set out in the Bill should be based on education needs, or based merely on areas in which youth unemployment is extremely high? Does he accept that it is more important to encourage the teaching of skills with a wider use of discretionary grants because this would be a better means of using scarce resources?

Mr. Oakes

We shall pay attention to the take-up of places by youngsters in these areas. Another factor will be the unemployment in the area, and yet another the nature of the area—whether it is inner-city or not.

On the other point about educational need, I hope that those awards are not confined in any way to being used only for O and A-levels. There is a great deal of educational need in further education, and youngsters may stay on at school or college to participate in such courses.

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