HC Deb 19 June 1984 vol 62 cc133-4
13. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the number of pupils taking up the assisted places scheme.

Mr. Dunn

In the current academic year, the third year of the scheme, there are more than 13,000 places in England.

Mr. Chapman

I welcome the purpose of the scheme, which is to widen opportunities for at least some children from less well-off families. What is the average cost per pupil working out at? Does that not have to be compared with the average cost of educating somebody in the state secondary system?

Mr. Dunn

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the cost to the Department per assisted pupil is not very much different from the average unit cost in maintained secondary schools.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that large numbers of private schools are dependent on this public money? Whereas most people think that there are only one or two assisted students in private schools using public money, there are, in fact, many of them. Is not this money being taken away from the state system of education, which needs it urgently?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the attention of the House to the uptake of places. On his general thesis, he is wrong now, as he has been wrong in the past, and I dare say he will be wrong again in the future.

Mr. Tracey

Will my hon. Friend cast his mind back to the words spoken to him by working-class parents who met him a few months ago, whose children are now benefiting from the assisted places scheme? Will he continue to strive for more money for this excellent scheme?

Mr. Dunn

I can give no undertaking on the latter point, but in the 1983–84 school year, 40 per cent. of the assisted places attracted the full fee remission and nearly 75 per cent. of the places went to pupils from families with below average incomes. That is a fact of which the House should be proud.

Mr. Freud

Will the Minister consider giving a new name to those schools in the private sector that will have more than 50 per cent. of their pupils paid for out of public funds?

Mr. Dunn

No, Sir.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not a fact that the assisted places scheme provides a ladder of opportunity for children from disadvantaged homes whose parents cannot afford a college of excellence, and that these are the very children whom the Opposition pretend to support?

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend is right in his interpretation. A great deal of humbug is talked by Opposition Members when they wish to exercise their right to choose schools for their children, but deny the same right to other people.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Over the next few months, will my hon. Friend consider extending the assisted places scheme to children of average and below average ability, who will probably benefit as much from having a choice of the independent schools as those of above average ability?

Mr. Dunn

I welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion, but the Department has no plans to take such points of view into account at the moment.

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