HC Deb 27 March 1996 vol 274 cc1017-8
5. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many pupils were assisted by the assisted places scheme in the last year for which figures are available; and how many will be assisted in the year 1996–97. [21323]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

Provisional figures indicate that around 3,050 pupils are being assisted in the current 1995–96 school session. Approximately 3,500 pupils will be assisted in the 1996–97 school session.

Mr. Marshall

Will my hon. Friend tell the House how many parents of those who have been assisted under the assisted places scheme have an income of less than £9,000 per year? Does he agree that the scheme makes admission to private schools classless rather than the preserve of the privileged few, as it was when the Leader of the Opposition went to Fettes?

Mr. Robertson

I can tell my hon. Friend that 46.41 per cent. of those parents had incomes of less than £9,711. I agree whole-heartedly with the second part of his question.

Mr. Wray

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Plowden report recommend that the pupil-teacher ratio in deprived areas should be as low as 1:10? Why is he spending £10.9 million—possibly doubling to £20 million in the next year—on 3,000 assisted places? Does he think that that is just?

Mr. Robertson

We are also funding, through the urban partnerships scheme, an additional 1,000 teachers in deprived areas throughout Scotland to help to raise standards in the very areas that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Has my hon. Friend noted that Opposition Members would like to stop children from deprived families attending schools such as Fettes although they are quite happy to be led by someone who went to such a school? Is not what is good enough for the Leader of the Opposition good enough for deprived children in Scotland?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scheme has helped 11,000 children from less well-off backgrounds in Scotland to be given the same start in life as many Opposition Members. I do not see much wrong with that; it is a pity that Opposition Members do.

Mrs. Liddell

How does the Minister justify a scheme that is so much at odds with the principles of education in Scotland, where 97 per cent. of school pupils are in the state sector? How can it be acceptable to spend £3,500 of taxpayers' money on pupils in private schools when less than £2,500 is spent on those in state schools? With regard to the £9,700 ceiling, will he enlighten us as to the monitoring mechanisms which exist to ensure that people do not use creative accounting to avail themselves of the scheme?

Mr. Robertson

This is the second occasion on which the hon. Lady has cast aspersions on parents currently using the scheme. When the First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation considered the Education (Assisted Places) (Scotland) Regulations 1995, I asked her to furnish me with any details of abuse that she might have. That was more than two months ago and I am still waiting. If the hon. Lady cannot put up on this subject, she should shut up. As for the comparative costs that she mentioned—£3,438 and £2,658—when she gives details of the alleged cases of abuse, perhaps she will tell us whether she included the cost of capital building and other central support services in the second figure before making her spurious comparison.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the abolition of the assisted places scheme, from which 3,500 children benefit, would place an additional heavy burden on local education authorities? Is it not a case of Labour Members being dogs in the manger, trying to deprive children of opportunities simply because they cannot all take advantages of those opportunities themselves?

Mr. Robertson

I remind the House, and my hon. Friend, that the money that we spend on the assisted places scheme does not come from what we spend on state education; it comes from a different budget. If there were no assisted places scheme, all my hon. Friends would have a claim to the money.

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