§ 1. Mr. Flannery
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schools have now agreed to co-operate in accepting children under the assisted places scheme; and how many children are involved.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)
A total of 220 independent schools are participating in the assisted places scheme in England. They are contracted to offer a maximum of 5,439 assisted places each year; 4,185 places were taken up in September 1981.
§ Mr. Flannery
At a time when education cuts are appalling, from the bottom level to the top—the universities and every section of education are struggling to obtain more funds to educate our children properly—does not the Minister suffer some pangs of conscience when the so-called assisted places scheme gives public money to those who least need it—in fact, do not need it at all—thereby taking it away from the vast mass of children and having the bad effect of creaming off children from sixth forms throughout the country?
§ Dr. Boyson
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have consciences. We must assess whether the assisted places scheme is successful in doing what was intended. If the hon. Gentleman was present on 16 December when this issue was debated, he would have heard the figures. The parents of one-third of the children who are taking advantage of the assisted places scheme are paying nothing, because of their low incomes. Another third of the children have parents who are in receipt of below-average wages. The hon. Gentleman said that public money was going to those who do not need it, but that is untrue. Only 6 per cent. of the places available under the assisted places scheme are going to the children of families earning 50 per cent. more than the average income. For example, no hon. Member, unless he has a vast tribe of children, would qualify for the scheme.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The answer was as long as the supplementary question, and both were too long for me.
§ Mr. Nelson
Despite what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said, is my hon. Friend aware that many people, including myself, have 138 personal reasons for appreciating the assisted places scheme that was operated in the past, because it gave them the opportunity to receive a breadth of education which would not otherwise have been available to them? I assure him that he will receive my fullest support and, I am sure, our party's in pressing ahead with the scheme. If he is able to make more financial provision available in the future, that will be additionally welcome.
§ Dr. Boyson
I welcome my hon. Friend's question, and I am pleased to have his support. The aim of the scheme is to bring bright children, irrespective of their backgrounds, to schools with some of the most splendid sixth forms in the country.
§ Mr. Dobson
Have any of the assisted places gone to children from Winton House school, St. Leonard's on Sea, whose headmaster, Mr. D. J. Cole, MA, LL.B, Jesus College, Cambridge, has recently written to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) threatening to use the Armed Forces against the next: Labour Government should they attempt to do away with independent schools?
§ Dr. Boyson
That was quite an interesting and unusual question. I have had no discussions about schools in St. Leonard's on Sea or about the headmaster of Winton House school, who obviously is an original, whatever else may be said about him. If the hon. Gentleman hands me the press cutting, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will enjoy reading it.