HC Deb 23 May 1995 vol 260 cc699-700
10. Mr. David Martin

To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many children have an assisted place at a private school. [23819]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

Almost 29,800 children hold Government-assisted places in independent schools in England in the current year. In addition, other children are supported in independent schools by local education authorities.

Mr. Martin

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the assisted places scheme is popular with parents because of its educational value and the opportunities provided, not least by places given to pupils in Portsmouth? Will she take every opportunity to point out the fact that the vindictive educational vandals on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches would abolish the assisted places scheme if the British people were ever foolish enough to elect a Labour Government?

Mrs. Shephard

The assisted places scheme has helped more than 70,000 children since its inception. It is a success and it is popular. The Government believe in encouraging choice and diversity in education, a policy consistently opposed by the Opposition who, if they have a position on the matter, seem to believe that they can exercise as parents choices that they vote to deny to others.

Mr. O'Hara

Is not the assisted places scheme more to do with propping up a foundering private system than with the opportunities it gives to the children whom it is draining from the state system, together with resources? Is not it a fact that the value that is vaunted for the assisted places scheme is certainly not borne out by the examination results achieved by the children involved?

Mrs. Shephard

Oh, how wrong the hon. Gentleman is. The assisted places scheme is about the extension of choice and about excellent examination results. Assisted places scheme pupils in 1994 had pass rates of more than 90 per cent. in both GCSE and A-levels. The scheme also encourages a high stay-on rate. It is an investment in opportunity which the Opposition would lose no time in abolishing.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Given that the incomes of 60 per cent. of the parents of children with assisted places are less than the national average and that the head of the headmasters conference said that the cost to the Exchequer of the assisted places scheme was less than the average for a state school, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party's opposition to the assisted places scheme is based not on logic or on good education but purely on ideology and envy?

Mrs. Shephard

Given that the aim of the scheme is to widen the choice of able children from less well-off families, one would have hoped that Opposition Members would support it. Their attitudes are to do with class envy, as my hon. Friend remarks.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, if the money devoted to the assisted places scheme were devoted to the state sector, 5,000 additional teachers could be employed to assist in reducing the class sizes which she seems determined to drive up?

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that pupils transfer with their funding, which is unfortunate given that he occupies a place on the Opposition Front Bench. It would be interesting if the hon. Gentleman would confirm that his party intends to abolish the scheme in the unlikely event of the Labour party ever attaining power.

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