HC Deb 29 April 2004 vol 420 cc996-7
7. Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West)(Lab/Co-op)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the education maintenance allowance in raising levels of participation in post-16 education. [169211]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

In the pilots, education maintenance allowances increased participation by 16-year-olds in education by nearly six percentage points. Evaluation findings of the national scheme show that we are expected to ensure that, by 2006–07, 72,000 more young people will be participating in post-16 education thanks to education maintenance allowances.

Mr. Bailey

I thank the Minister for his reply. In my local authority, Sandwell, which is one of the more deprived boroughs in the country, experience of the pilot scheme reflects the figures that he gave. As the grants are linked not only to attendance but to performance, will he give an assessment of improvements in academic performance at this level and assurances on long-term funding to sustain them?

Mr. Miliband

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The English problem post-16, concerns not only participation but progression. The key aspect of education maintenance allowances is that they are tied to achievement, as well as attendance. I will write to my hon. Friend with the precise figures, but I can assure him that the programmes have had a significant and positive impact on achievement.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con)

To use a phrase of the Home Secretary's, is it not bonkers that we should pay children who presumably do not see the value of education to go to school? Is it not equally perverse that this Government, who introduced fees, and are introducing top-up fees for universities, should say on the one hand, "We'll pay you to go to school", and on the other, "We'll saddle you with debt to go to university"?

Mr. Miliband

I will tell the hon. Gentleman what is bonkers. It is bonkers when young people who have the motivation and qualifications to stay on in the educational system have to leave it because they do not have the necessary financial support. We hope over time to teach Conservative Members that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, socialism is the language of priorities; and this is a priority.

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab)

May 1 bring back a brief report from the chalk face? Last week, I was lucky enough to speak to 16-year-olds at Brigshaw high school. I got a better reception as an MP than I used to get as a school teacher, as those young people listened with rapt attention to the Government's proposals on the education maintenance allowance. This Labour Government have introduced these proposals precisely because young people from such former mining areas did not, for a number of social and cultural reasons, stay on to fulfil their true potential. May I tell my hon. Friend the Minister that when a Labour Government carry on like this, they are doing a brilliant job?

Mr. Miliband

These occasions are the time for asking Ministers searching questions to test Government policy. I am happy to reiterate that in mining areas such as mine and my hon. Friend's, education maintenance allowances can plug a significant gap in the system. We all know that the best investment that we can make is in education, and anything that helps young people to participate and progress in their studies must be good.