§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
There has been an excellent response to my announcement of 29 November inviting bids for the first instalment of the expansion of the assisted places scheme from September 1996. Over 400 schools applied for more than 7,400 new entry places this year. Bids were also received for over 5,200 additional places in 1997.
I have allocated over 4,000 new entry places at around 280 schools in England for the academic year 1996–97. This is a significant contribution to expansion. As successive years' entries move up through the schools, the total number of places will eventually double the 34,000 currently available in England. Over half the new places will be for secondary pupils entering at ages 11 to 13 as in the existing scheme, and about a quarter for direct sixth form entry. Subject to parliamentary approval, I also intend to make places available for children to enter the scheme below the age of 11 at schools which have an integral junior department.
I am placing in the Library of the House a list of the 226 schools currently participating in the scheme which will be increasing the number of assisted places. These amount to around 2,800 new entry places.
A further 60 schools will be new to the scheme and have not previously had assisted places. I am completing negotiations with these on the provision of about 1,100 new entry places, and will place a list in the Library shortly.
I will also announce shortly the allocation of some 100 additional aided places under the parallel at specialist schools for talented pupils of music and dance.
Every region of England will benefit from these allocations. Nearly two fifths of the new places will be in girls' schools, and the remainder in coeducational and boys schools. This new tranche of assisted places secures an equitable distribution across the scheme as a whole.
Many of the independent schools in the scheme serve major urban areas. I am asking those schools where appropriate to encourage applications for places for pupils from inner-city areas and the ethnic minority communities.
All the schools receiving allocations for 1996 achieve outstanding GCSE and A-level results and maintain strong sixth forms. Many of the other schools bidding for places also have excellent records, and I regret that it was not possible to accommodate them within the provision available for the first instalment. I am keen to offer further 648W allocations of new entry places for 1997, and to extend places to separate preparatory schools for pupils aged below 11 and to encourage schools to develop distinctive facilities for pupils within particular needs.
The extension of the assisted places scheme improves the opportunities for able children from less well-off families to benefit from the excellent education offered by all the schools participating in it.