HC Deb 14 July 1981 vol 8 cc965-6
7. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will now introduce a system of school grants for 16 to 19-year-olds; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Macfarlane

The Government are keeping the arrangements for financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds under review but have no plans at present for changes.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Minister realise that there are many advantages in using the 16 to 19-year-olds' school grant as part of a package to reduce the impact of unemployment? Is he aware that there is no sense in sending school leavers on to a saturated labour market, some of them ending up as part of the slave labour trade in the Manpower Services Commission's scheme at £23.50 a week? Would it not be sensible to keep those who want to stay on, on a voluntary basis, under the school grant system, thus providing for a few more skilled teachers to be employed?

Mr. Macfarlane

At the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's question I thought that he was serious about this important issue. However, as usual, unhappily, some of his comments became a little destructive and perhaps jaundiced.

As regards the maintenance allowance for 16 to 19-year-olds, the hon. Gentleman should understand that there is insufficient evidence so far of a direct correlation between financial support and increased numbers of pupils staying on in education and further training. It is true that many local authorities pay education maintenance allowances. It may interest the House to know that in 1979–80 Derbyshire paid about £26,000 for those in school education and about £55,000 for those who stayed in further education. That shows that local authorities do provide maintenance allowances.

Mr. Foster

Does the Minister agree that there is now a positive financial incentive for young people to leave school at the earliest opportunity? Does he further agree that in areas such as the North-East, where participation rates are particularly low, education maintenance allowances would be an essential element in encouraging many more young peole to stay on at school, thus avoiding going on to the unemployment registers?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman has a detailed understanding of the problem, and I pay tribute to him for that. My right hon. and learned Friend and I and other Ministers have made clear our objectives regarding maintenance allowances. We believe that it is important for young people to stay on in education for as long as they can. It is worth noting that in England and Wales £3.7 million was paid in 1979–80 by local education authorities in maintenance allowances. That is not an insignificant sum in school education.