HC Deb 03 July 1979 vol 969 cc1090-2
9. Mr. Armstrong

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what communications he has had concerning the provision of aided places in independent schools; and what will be the criteria for selection of pupils for such places.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

I have had letters from parents and from a number of schools. I shall shortly be consulting the direct grant and independent schools' associations and other bodies about the assisted places scheme. The arrangements for the selection of pupils will be among the matters I shall want to discuss.

Mr. Armstrong

Is the Secretary of State aware that at a time when schools are being denied basic textbooks, when teachers are threatened with redundancies, and nursery schools are being closed, it is inexcusable to set aside public money in favour of a very small minority? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not told me how he will select pupils. There is no fair, accurate basis of selection. When he is demanding cuts across the board in education, how can he justify this expenditure on a very small, already privileged minority?

Mr. Carlisle

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's grossly exaggerated account of the effects of the cuts announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement. We have been committed throughout to the introduction of the assisted places scheme. We believe that the expenditure on it is well justified by the benefit and the reward that it will bring to the children involved.

Mr. Beith

Is the Secretary of State aware that in some areas there are no schools of the kind he wants to assist within travelling distance? If some authorities, such as Northumberland, decide that they would rather use the money to improve their own schools, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give them the money?

Mr. Carlisle

I am aware that if we start with the existing direct grant schools we do not, at present, have a general geographical spread of those schools throughout the country. It is true that the North-East has few of those schools. But I hope that as the scheme expands we shall be able to bring in an adequate number of schools to provide a good geographical spread.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the independent schools are a most important part of our education system, and that the more children who can go to them the better, particularly because of those schools' emphasis on high moral standards and on leadership?

Mr. Carlisle

I am aware that the independent schools are a necessary sector of our education, providing the opportunity for parents who wish to do so to send their children to them.

Mr. Kinnock

Further to the answer which the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave my right hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), has he not heard of the demolition of the nursery school programme in some counties, as a direct consequence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget measures? Does he not know that peripatetic education is about to cease in many of those areas? Will he take this opportunity to confirm or deny the press reports that he will set aside £50 million for the programme of assisted places? Is not this simply a back door method of subsidising schools that are already well-endowed?

Mr. Carlisle

It is true that one of the cuts I made in the education budget was in the school building programme for nursery education. But I should make it clear that, far from reducing the number of nursery school places available, as the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) have suggested, the effect of that cut is to provide for an additional 4,000 places to be started in this year rather than an additional 6,000 places. Therefore, it is not a reduction; it allows for an increase.

Secondly, the scale of implementation of the scheme is still being considered by my Department. Clearly, it is dependent on the economic situation.