HC Deb 06 February 1979 vol 962 cc186-8
4. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science on what criteria she will base her decision to select certain areas for means-tested educational maintenance allowances; and if she will make a statement.

15. Mr. Gerry Fowler

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science upon what criteria she will decide which local education authorities shall, in the whole or part of their areas, run pilot schemes of universal means-tested educational maintenance allowances as from September this year.

Mr. Oakes

Only those authorities which volunteer can be considered for the pilot programme, so the final selection must depend on the composition of the list of volunteers as well as the level of resources available.

My right hon. Friend's aim of offering help to the more hard pressed areas will lead her to consider particularly, amongst the wide variety of factors which she will take into account, the level of participation of 16 to 18-year-olds in full time education, the level of youth unemployment, assisted area or inner city status and indicators of educational disadvantage.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend accept that while many of us welcome the whole idea of, and tendency towards, mandatory educational maintenance allowances, there is nonetheless great worry about areas competing for them and possibly even on occasions even refusing them? Will he also accept that, although I appreciate the difficulties, means testing seems to me a sad business, and will cause all kinds of anomalies? We hope that one day a major struggle will be waged so that none of that occurs and all areas receive mandatory maintenance allowances for education.

Mr. Oakes

Provision is being made in the Education Bill so that when resources are available it could become, by an affirmative resolution of this House and of the other place, a scheme for the whole country. But resources are not available now. The resources now available are sufficient to allow coverage of about 15 per cent of the relevant population.

Mr. Fowler

Is my hon. Friend aware that the principle that authorities must volunteer has had side effects that no one foresaw when it was first determined? Some Tory authorities, including my own in Salop, which include areas of great deprivation and high youth unemployment, refused to volunteer, not on grounds of principle but merely because it is a scheme put forward by a Labour Government.

Mr. Oakes

There is no question of any authority which does not wish to participate being compelled to do so. It is up to the electors of my hon. Friend's constituency to take the appropriate action.

Mr. Forman

As there is only a very limited quantity of public money available for these purposes, would it not be better if it were allocated on the basis of the child's educational potential, and if it went more to part-time further education than full-time education in school?

Mr. Oakes

The scheme will apply to both schools and colleges of further education. I would be totally opposed to the sort of scheme the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, a sort of 16-plus scholarship.

Mr. Ovenden

Does my hon. Friend accept that the most serious problem about educational maintenance awards is the variation between those authorities that face up to their responsibilities and those, such as my own in Kent, which do not? Will not his proposals make that situation far worse?

Mr. Oakes

I do not think that it will make the situation worse. There are limited resources available, and I consider that this will be a valuable experiment in preparation for when the full scheme can come into operation when the resources are available.

Mr. George

Will my hon. Friend publish a list of volunteers? I would be most interested to see whether my own authority, in whose area only 13 per cent of the youngsters go into further and higher education, is prepared to submit its name for consideration.

Mr. Oakes

That may be possible when the final list comes in. To date, 33 authorities in England have firmly indicated that they wish to be considered in the programme.