HC Deb 05 February 1980 vol 978 cc215-7
3. Mr. Porter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, under the assisted places scheme, he intends that parents who could have afforded the fees at the schools in question should be able to obtain financial assistance.

10. Mr. John Townend

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if it is proposed to have some totally free places under the assisted places scheme; and what test will be applied for the award of such places.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

Parental contributions towards the cost of school fees under the assisted places scheme will be means-tested. The means test will set an income threshold up to which full remission will be paid, and an upper limit beyond which no help will be given.

Mr. Porter

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm and emphasise that the scale is such that only those children whose parents cannot afford the full fees will benefit from the scheme?

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I confirm that the purpose of the scheme is to give certain children whose parents would not otherwise be able to afford the fees the opportunity to benefit from the education provided at the schools which join the scheme.

Mr. Townend

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's reply, but will he give an indication of the level of family income at which parents will no longer be entitled to a free place for their children?

Mr. Carlisle

I cannot do that now, but I can tell the House that it is my intention, following the undertaking given by the Under-Secretary, to set out our proposed scale of income later this week so that the House will have knowledge of it before we reach the Report stage of the Bill.

Mr. Christopher Price

Now that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has announced to the House in a written answer that he has received from schools only half the applications necessary to run the scheme—that is before any sorting out has been done—when will he announce the reduced scale on which the assisted places scheme must now run?

Mr. Carlisle

The answer is that the figures given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in a written answer yesterday show that to date we have had applications in relation to 10,000 places starting each year. Further applications are still coming in.

In reply to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question I can only repeat what I said in answer to the first question—that the timing and the extent of the introduction must be a matter for me. Clearly, it is a matter on which I shall inform the House on an appropriate occasion.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether the average cost to the State of a child under the assisted places scheme is likely to be more or less than the cost of keeping that child in a maintained secondary school?

Mr. Carlisle

I cannot answer that question exactly at this moment, but in general terms it would be roughly the same.

Mr. Kinnock

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall that he asked schools to enter their applications by the end of January? For how long does he intend to extend the date of application? Will it be until he has enough applications to justify the scheme in his terms?

We welcome the withdrawal that is taking place, although it is being done gradually and grudgingly, but will the right hon. and learned Gentleman further reconsider the matter and erase the scheme altogether, to remove both the threat and the insult that the scheme poses towards the maintained sector?

Mr. Carlisle

It is right that we asked for replies by 31 January. It is equally right that replies are still coming in. That is not unreasonable, perhaps, in view of the fact that our letter went out shortly before Christmas, on 6 December. Governing boards tend not to meet over the Christmas period. Answers are, therefore, still coming in.

My reply to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that I do not accept that this scheme, any more than the old direct grant scheme, is in any way an insult to the maintained sector of education.