HC Deb 05 February 1980 vol 978 cc224-6
9. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is (a) the average annual fee and (b) the maximum annual fee now contemplated for participating schools in the assisted places scheme.

Dr. Boyson

My right hon. and learned Friend has no fixed average or maximum fee in mind. We shall be considering the responses that we receive from schools individually and not against arbitrary limits of that kind.

Mr. Price

Is it contemplated that these places should be brought side by side with empty places in local authority secondary schools? If so, how can the Government justify the scheme, in the light of the plea for more efficient use of public money?

Dr. Boyson

Schools with superb sixth form facilities will take pupils from areas where the maintained sector cannot offer such facilities, particularly in inner city areas. It will be an excellent opportunity for those children.

The current recoupment level for local authority secondary schools is £715 for pupils between the age of 11 and 16, and £1,155 for pupils aged 16 plus. The six ex-direct grant schools in Manchester have an average fee of £841. In certain areas the scheme could even save money.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Does the assisted places scheme extend to schools which offer specialist skills, such as ballet, music and singing, and will it help children who have problems such as dyslexia and need to go to special schools?

Dr. Boyson

Ballet and music schools were exempted under the 1976 Act, and pupils could go to them. We shall consider applications from schools at sixth form level and below where it is felt that pupils would gain advantage from the facilities offered in music, art or languages.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that his continually repeated emphasis on the sixth form aspects of the schools that he would want to be in the assisted places scheme provides strong circumstantial evidence to support the fears of the National Association of Head Teachers and many other organisations that, in reality, the assisted places scheme will mean piracy of talent at the leadership and inspiration levels from schools in the maintained sector?

Dr. Boyson

Under the system wiped out by the Labour Government, about 2 per cent. of pupils went to direct grant schools. I do not remember hearing complaints from county grammar schools then that they were being denuded of sixth form talent. The maintained schools will retain 80 per cent. of the top 20 per cent. ability pupils, and there is something wrong with them if, on those figures, they cannot achieve good academic results.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

Does my hon. Friend agree that the assisted places scheme will give great advantage to children from poor areas, and that that sort of advantage was given to certain Labour Members by the grammar school system?

Dr. Boyson

I agree entirely. I believe that when they are published the figures for acceptance on the means test will bear that out. The scheme will offer superb sixth form opportunities that do not exist in certain areas for pupils whose parents cannot afford to pay.

Mr. Hardy

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the assisted places scheme will be found attractive by the more third-rate "bucket shops" in the private sector? Will he accept that, with the shrinking child population and the declining economic situation, those institutions would otherwise be seriously threatened, since even snobbary at some point is insupportable?

Dr. Boyson

It is interesting that we are attacked from the Labour Benches on one side for taking talent from sixth forms and on the other over craft schools or what the hon. Gentleman calls "bucket shops". Labour Members should make up their minds from which side they want to attack.