|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Henley: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, can unfold his tent because he has other business beyond this, and I hope to see him for that. Perhaps I may say this in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. She seemed to be criticising another place for claiming financial privilege. That is entirely a matter for another place. It is not a matter for us to question. The fact is that it has claimed financial privilege and there is an end to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris complains--I believe that it was slightly unfair--that the debate after dinner in another place was somewhat unedifying. Perhaps I should remind the noble Lord of the form which the debate took on this amendment in this House at Committee stage. I seem to remember that the noble Lord got to his feet and said, "I beg to move", and that was the sum total of the debate on the amendment. If the noble Lord will remember, we earlier debated the subject of evaluation; and the Committee came to a view which was completely contrary to the view to which it came after the rather odd procedural gambits of the noble Lord at ten o'clock that night. We had the rather unedifying spectacle of the Committee of this House making a decision on the same matter with completely contrary views on the same day. Perhaps that is a matter that we should consider. It is something that this House should not try to do again. I appreciate that in moving this first amendment, the noble Lord rather sotto voce informed the Committee that
My honourable friends and right honourable friends in another place, as did his honourable and right honourable friends, had an edifying debate last week on this subject. They came to a clear conclusion that they did not want this amendment. That is why it has come back to us; and that is why I ask the House to agree with the views of another place.
I wish to add a word or two about evaluation. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked about evaluation. We have said a great deal about evaluation both in this place and in another place at all stages of the Bill. We take that evaluation seriously. It will cover a wide range of aspects of the scheme. It will become available from now and over the autumn. So far as possible all of it will be published, and inspection evidence will be available from late autumn. There will be a survey of parents and of providers. We have already mentioned those. There will be an analysis of the issue of vouchers and an analysis of the redemption of vouchers. I believe that lessons are already being learned. I do not think that it will be necessary at this stage to continue to make the points that we have made at Committee and other stages as to how thorough that evaluation will be.
We believe that it is important, as I said, that half a million four year-old children have the benefit of those vouchers, as do the children of Norfolk, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Wandsworth at present. They should have the benefits of those vouchers and of the good quality nursery education with the inspection that will come with it, which will lever up standards, as soon as is reasonably practical, which is next April. That is why I now ask the House to agree with the Commons in their rejection of Amendment No. 1 for the reason given in Amendment No. 1A.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, so that the record may be correct perhaps I may point out that at Committee stage in your Lordships' House the first amendment in the first group was on an order, not on evaluation. The Government chose to read that group otherwise after we had given them the grouping in the middle of the previous week.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is being somewhat disingenuous. We had a group into which all those amendments were put. It was obviously open to the noble Lord, as he will remember from the form of words that appears on the top of the groupings, to move them at a later stage if he so wished, and he exercised his right. However, if the noble Lord reads through that debate, he will find that every single argument put forward from this side and the other side was entirely on evaluation, and nothing but evaluation. That is what the Committee of the House decided at something like
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House will recall that we introduced the Assisted Places Scheme in 1981 for the purposes of opening up educational opportunities for able children from less well-off families. The draft regulations before the House this evening cover England and Wales. Separate arrangements were made for a corresponding scheme in Scotland. Before I explain the draft regulations, I should like to restate why the scheme exists and why it is a remarkable success.
The Government are committed to raising standards in education. The Assisted Places Scheme plays a key part in promoting excellence in academic achievement and enhancing choice and diversity. We want all parents and children to have a rich variety of good schools from which to choose, regardless of income. Through the assisted places scheme, we are making opportunities at top independent schools more widely available. In contrast, noble Lords opposite would remove these opportunities from thousands of children. Their stated intention to abolish the assisted places scheme would restrict access to thousands of children and make independent schools solely the preserve of those who can afford the fees. It would remove the ladder of opportunity from these talented children.
Independent schools themselves wish to see the benefits of an independent education made more widely available. Many are reaching out into the community and enjoying a greater social and cultural mix within their walls. They have a long and honourable tradition of offering scholarships. But there are limits to what schools can do by themselves. The Assisted Places Scheme builds on and extends the schools' own contributions. It is a shining example of partnership between the state and the independent sector.
Since this excellent scheme was introduced, almost 80,000 children in England and Wales have benefited. There are now well over 30,000 pupils in the scheme. Four out of 10 assisted pupils enjoy totally free education because their family income is below the threshold of £9,572 a year and eight out of 10 are from families with incomes below the national average of £18,540 a year. Eighty per cent. come from the lower middle, skilled and unskilled working classes.
We want to widen access still further to parents in every part of the country. That is why we are doubling the scheme--to give twice as many children the opportunity to benefit. At present, there are 5,900 entry places
All the schools in the scheme have been carefully selected on the basis of their records of academic achievement. In 1995, over 94 per cent. of assisted pupils doing GCSE achieved grades A* to C, with some schools getting 100 per cent. pass rates. Ninety-four per cent. of assisted pupils entering for A-level received grades A to E, with some pupils achieving four grade A passes. Recent independent research by the London School of Economics confirms that, first, assisted pupils entered for significantly more A and AS-levels than their counterparts of similar ability in the maintained sector. Secondly, they achieved higher total points scores than pupils in the maintained sector. Thirdly, their average points score per examination entry was higher than for maintained sector pupils. Fourthly, overall the benefit of an assisted place is between 3.2 and 6.2 A-level points. Translated into grades, the advantage is between one-and-a-half and three A-level grades over all subjects taken.
Despite this overwhelming evidence of the success of the scheme, noble Lords opposite are committed to abolishing it. The Labour Party has said that the funds released would be used to reduce class sizes in the maintained sector. But pupils who would otherwise have benefited from the scheme would need to be educated in the maintained sector. That would largely swallow up their planned savings.
The average net annual cost of an assisted place in England in 1995-96 was about £3,700. This is very roughly only £800 a year more than the equivalent average annual recurrent cost of a maintained secondary school place. This differential is more than justified by the better results for assisted places scheme pupils.
Abolishing the APS and educating all assisted pupils in the maintained sector would eventually save only about £24 million a year at current prices. That ignores the capital costs of building extra places in the maintained sector for the displaced pupils: £24 million would provide fewer than 1,000 extra primary school teachers--quite insufficient to fulfil Labour's pledge to eliminate classes of over 30 in the first three years of primary schooling. Indeed, it would reduce the average Key Stage 1 class size by less than half a pupil.
Phasing out the APS by stopping new intakes but letting pupils already in the scheme continue would save less than £5 million in the first academic year. Even that could not be realised for three years under existing legislation. The Education Act 1980 requires the Secretary of State to give schools three years' notice of any unilateral termination of their participation agreements. Furthermore, the under £5 million would pay for only 200 extra primary teachers--about one for every 90 primary schools. Any gain of that kind would be minimal compared with the loss of opportunity for the 10,000 pupils about to enter APS schools each year.
Turning now to the detail of the regulations before the House, these amendments have a very specific, straightforward purpose. They simply update the principal regulations, which are the Education (Assisted Places) Regulations 1995. Essentially, they implement the annual uprating of the parental contribution tables, and thus set out the amounts parents must pay towards their child's assisted place at a participating independent school in the coming year. If approved, the amended regulations will come into force on 25th August 1996.
Regulation 4 of the draft regulations increases the allowance made for each dependent child from £1,165 to £1,200. This is in line with inflation and will maintain the level of help for families with more than one child.
Regulation 7 similarly uprates the income bands used for assessing parents' contributions towards fees. The income threshold at or below which parents pay nothing towards fees is raised from £9,572 to £9,873 a year. There are corresponding increases in the thresholds for the higher income bands.
Regulation 3 permits schools to offer an assisted place to a child from the very beginning of his or her compulsory eduction. We are making places available, for the first time, to children in the junior and preparatory departments of some of our best independent schools.
Regulation 5 sets out a technical change to the requirement that at least 60 per cent. of all assisted pupils in a school should have been recruited from publicly maintained schools. The 60 per cent. rule would not be appropriate to children entering school at the start of their compulsory education. Regulation 5 therefore provides for five and six year-olds to be excepted or omitted from the calculation. There are no other substantive changes. I beg to move.