HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc709-10W
Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what detailed arrangements she proposes for expanding the assisted places scheme. [3500]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 13 October that the assisted places scheme is to be doubled in size. I am today announcing the plans for implementation in England. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland will make statements about the arrangements for their schemes.

The pace of this expansion over time will depend on the supply of eligible high-quality places and on parental demand. This Department is inviting bids from independent schools—whether they are already participating in the scheme or not—for the first instalment of new places in September 1996. We look forward to receiving bids for:

  1. (a) new day places mainly for entry at age 11, but also at age 13 and for the sixth form, in mainstream independent secondary schools;
  2. (b) some new day places for children below age 11 in integral junior departments of independent secondary schools;
  3. (c) some new aided places in specialist schools of music or ballet for talented pupils.

To be eligible, schools must provide a broad-balanced curriculum, have an excellent record of GCSE and A-level performance and maintain a strong sixth form. I will also be seeking an equitable distribution between boys and girls, and will especially welcome bids from schools serving inner-city areas.

The scheme will continue to be aimed at able children from low-income families who would not otherwise have had the opportunity of the education offered in these schools. Schools will continue to select pupils according to their own academic entry criteria and the general eligibility conditions prescribed in the regulations. I will encourage them to give priority to those with potential to benefit from the distinctive facilities the school offers, including where appropriate pupils from inner-city areas and the ethnic minority communities.

I intend to continue the present broad framework of means-tested parental contributions towards approved fees. The arrangements for means testing and fee setting are reviewed annually for the purpose of the regulations, and I will consider any representations on these matters for the reviews in 1996 and subsequent years.

I aim to announce the successful bidders for the first instalment of new places early in 1996, and to ensure that parents are fully aware of the new opportunities open to them. I am confident that they will widely welcome the expansion of choice, diversity and excellence which this initiative offers.