HC Deb 18 July 1978 vol 954 cc247-8
4. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to conclude her discussion on the discretionary awards system.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

The Council of Local Education Authorities has decided, with the support of my Department, to conduct a fundamental review of policy on discretionary awards for advanced courses, in the light of the Department's recent survey and the comments of its own members. I understand that the first meeting of its working party will be on Thursday 20th July and that it aims to complete the review before the end of the year.

Mr. Hannam

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that many students who wish to take courses in accountancy, law, nursing and the arts are unable to do so because they are deprived of finance from local authorities because of discretionary awards systems failures? Will he divert the money which it is planned to spend on keeping sixth formers at school into providing these longer-term courses for these particular students?

Mr. Oakes

Regarding the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I am aware of the difficulty, particularly over the past 12 months when the number of such awards has in fact been reduced and when, according to the population, it ought to have increased. As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned in previous Questions, there is the problem of awards for performers, which also gives me considerable concern. I hope that the CLEA working party will look into all the aspects to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

With regard to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I disagree with him. I believe that it is very important indeed to establish the principles of financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds who wish to stay on at school.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my hon. Friend aware of the case which was taken up with his right hon. Friend about the youngster from St. Helens who is on £10 per week unemployment benefit and who, when he returns to college to take a 12-months course, is to receive £1 per week as a discretionary award from the local education authority? This is less than the cost of the bus fares between his home and the college. What is my hon. Friend's Department prepared to do about that?

Mr. Oakes

Discretionary awards are exactly what their title suggests. They are discretionary on the local education authority. I hope, however, that this matter of a very low rate of award, which is really an insignificant amount, is one of the matters that the CLEA working party will look into.