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Lords amendment: No. 141, after clause 120, to insert the following new clause--Payment of school expenses; grant of scholarships, etc--
" . For section 518 of the Education Act 1996 there shall be substituted--
"Payment of school expenses; grant of scholarships, etc.
518.--(1) A local education authority, for the purpose of enabling persons to take advantage of any educational facilities available to them, may in such circumstances as may be specified in or determined in accordance with regulations--
(a) pay such expenses of children attending community, foundation, voluntary or special schools as may be necessary to enable them to take part in any school activities,
(b) grant scholarships, exhibitions, bursaries and other allowances in respect of persons over compulsory school age.
(2) Regulations may make provision--
(a) for requiring a local education authority to make, in relation to each financial year, a determination relating to the extent to which they propose to exercise their power under subsection (1)(b) in that year; and
(b) for authorising an authority to determine not to exercise that power in a financial year--
(ii) in such cases as may be prescribed, or
(iii) in such cases as may be determined by the authority." "
Mr. Byers: I ask the House to agree with this group of amendments, most of which are technical, although one gives the Secretary of State the power, by regulations, to allow local education authorities to offer financial support to students if they choose to do so, which is important. It is a good example of the Secretary of State giving LEAs the flexibility to respond to local needs and aspirations as they find them. The current arrangements for post-16 discretionary awards are failing our young people and need to be replaced. The Government have considered the recommendations of the Lane committee and, as a result of the conclusions of the comprehensive spending review, we have been thinking how we can assist young people post-16 to stay on in full-time education.
Lords amendment: No. 142, after clause 120, to insert the following new clause--Transfer of assisted places--
".--(1) In section 3(2) of the Education (Schools) Act 1997 (regulations for purposes of transitional arrangements), after paragraph (f) there shall be added--
"(g) provide for the Secretary of State, in a case where he is satisfied that it is reasonable to do so in view of any particular circumstances relating to a pupil who holds (or has at any time held) an assisted place provided by a school under section 2(1), to authorise another school which is either--
(i) a former participating school, or
(ii) a new school authorised to provide assisted places by virtue of paragraph (f) above,
to provide for the pupil under section 2(1) the assisted place which the first-mentioned school was authorised to provide."
(2) In section 75A(9A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (regulations in connection with assisted places)--
(a) the word "and" immediately preceding paragraph (b) shall be omitted; and
(b) after that paragraph there shall be inserted "; and
(c) provide for the Secretary of State, in a case where he is satisfied that it is reasonable to do so in view of any particular circumstances relating to a pupil who holds (or has, at any time since the beginning of the first term of the 1997-98 school year, held) an assisted place at a school under a scheme operated by virtue of subsection (1) above, to authorise another school which is, or is treated as, a participating school to provide for the pupil under such a scheme the assisted place which the first-mentioned school was authorised to provide." "
Mr. Byers: The amendments cover perhaps only a handful of young people, but they are important. At present, the law on phasing out the assisted places scheme does not permit a child to transfer an assisted place from one school to another. However, there may be pressing reasons why a child should be able to do so. Ministers' attention has been drawn to several cases in which there are family and social reasons why an alternative school is needed. The amendments would give the Secretary of State a power to agree that an assisted place can be transferred in exceptional circumstances where compassion demands it. The amendments respond to the situations that have been raised with us. We shall operate the discretionary power responsibly and sensibly. We have already
Mr. St. Aubyn: Can the Minister confirm that three criteria apply in such cases, and that the Government have exercised discretion reflecting compassion and the needs of the child in only two cases that do not meet those criteria?
Mr. Byers: I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with detailed figures, as I do not have them to hand. I believe that more than two have been agreed on grounds beyond the three specified criteria. Wherever possible, we have sought to be generous and sympathetic, as these amendments are.
Mrs. May: I welcome the amendments. As the Minister has said, a number of young people may benefit from what I must call a U-turn by the Government. Those points were raised by Opposition Members during the debate on the Education (Schools) Bill. The Government set their face implacably against the discretion that their amendments introduce. I fear that the Government's sudden transformation came not because they had considered the concerns of parents or the education of any of the children involved but because a parent decided to take them to the High Court to challenge the fact that his son was not being allowed to transfer to a second school. The Government decided to pull out of the case and allow the child to transfer to a second school. The case involved junior and senior schools at Ely.
Mr. Byers: The hon. Lady has totally misunderstood the consequences of the amendments, which relate to a child at secondary school who wants to transfer to a different secondary school. That is why we tabled them. The situation that she describes is covered by the Education (Schools) Act 1997. She needs to be clear about the consequences of the amendments, but her contribution so far has shown that she is unclear about them.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, because it suggests that he does not understand the sort of case that I was citing. The amendment, as I read it, does not refer to the two schools being secondary schools but talks about a pupil transferring to another school to continue the assisted place. That was what was happening in the High Court case of Alastair Sanderson.
Mr. Byers: The hon. Lady is misleading the House--inadvertently, I am sure. I do not think that it is helpful to mention individual cases in the way that she did but that case has now been agreed under the discretion that the Secretary of State already has. Tonight, we are considering a quite different discretion to allow an individual who already has an assisted place to move to another school with it. That is quite different. The case she mentions has nothing to do with the Lords amendment.
Mrs. May: It seems that, every time the Minister speaks on this, he talks about increased flexibility in the Government's provisions for children who have been granted assisted places. It is precisely that point that the