HC Deb 25 October 1983 vol 47 cc130-1
8. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children are now taking part in the assisted places scheme; and what have been the annual increases since its inception.

Mr. Dunn

Provisional figures indicate that about 13,000 children in England are now taking part in the assisted places scheme. The three annual intakes this represents were 4,185, 4,431 and, provisionally, 4,700.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that successive inspectors' reports have revealed that the provision of books and equipment is parlous in many schools in the public sector throughout Britain? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, side by side with the horrific cuts in the public sector of education, public money, which the Government call taxpayers' money, is being used to enhance and enlarge the private sector? Does he accept that this is being done when many thousands of our children are suffering because of cuts in the public sector?

Mr. Dunn

I continue to welcome the progress of the assisted places scheme. It provides the bright child from ordinary circumstances with an opportunity to apply for a range of provision that is not necessarily offered by his local authority. The hon. Gentleman's subjective interventions are always welcome. His known and class-ridden hostility to the scheme guarantees proof that we are moving in the right direction.

Mr. Dorrell

Is it not a fact that the Labour party's policies have led to many 'former direct grant schools being closed to the children of those parents who cannot afford to pay the fees? Is it not welcome that the assisted places scheme has made it possible for all children in many local communities to aspire to enter schools which, throughout their history, have been open to and have served the whole of the communities in which they operate?

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend is right. He may be interested to know that in the 1982–83 school year 40 per cent. of the assisted places attracted full fee remission and that 70 per cent. of the places went to pupils from families with below average incomes.

Mr. Alton

If the Minister is opposed to subjective information being offered to the House, will he give the House objective information by revealing precisely how much the assisted places scheme has cost taxpayers since its inception? Will he tell the House also how much has been cut from the public sector provision during the same period?

Mr. Dunn

I understand that £16.5 million has been provided for the assisted places scheme for the financial year 1983–84.

Mr. Dobson

By what scale of morality, either secular or religious, can the Minister and his colleagues justify spending almost £9 million in this year, on subsidising privileged schools when they have found only about £1 million to help in the integration of handicapped children in ordinary schools?

Mr. Dunn

We can justify the scheme on financial grounds because it has been a great success in widening education opportunities. It has more than met its objectives in helping children from poorer backgrounds.