Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: I think that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that. There is a well-established system of higher education student support. As he will know, we are considering those details. Until the allowances

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were proposed, there was no arrangement for supporting young people who were over compulsory school age but who were not yet in higher education. Compared with other countries, we have strikingly low rates of participation among young people. In 1998, there were proportionally fewer 17-year-olds in education in Britain than in any other OECD country except Turkey, Mexico and Greece. No one would suggest that that is how things should be. We need to be doing better in bringing more young people just over compulsory school age into education. The allowances are one of the ways that we have considered to achieve that, and we look forward to the full evaluation of their impact.

Mr. David Miliband (South Shields): What are the main drivers of low participation? The Minister naturally focuses on the allowance system and the financial incentives, but the strongest predictor of post-16 participation is success at GCSE level. That implies that the reforms to secondary education and the improvement in standards in education for young people up to 15 may have as much effect on post-16 participation as direct financial incentives, if not more.

Mr. Timms: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The answer is that many factors are involved. There is a culture among too many young people and their parents in this country that education finishes at 16. We want to change that and to encourage people to think of the period up to 19 as one in which they learn. We also hope that many more will go on to higher education. My hon. Friend is right about the importance of doing well at GCSE level and the consequent raising of standards in the secondary system. Our proposals will allow that to happen.

Chris Grayling: The Minister is talking about an option for an 18-year-old to go into higher education and study a course provided by a local college that is more vocational than used to be available, or to go into further education. However, there is currently no practical financial support for a student in higher education. Students take out a loan or pay for the course themselves. There is a danger that if there is an option to take up an allowance for a lesser course, or no such option for an HE course, that makes it more difficult to get those pupils who might not have gone into higher education to do so in the future.

Mr. Timms: I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point. There is the well-established system of student support for those taking part in higher education. That is different in character from the one that we envisage, but it is not the case that there is no support. The dichotomy that he presents does not arise. However, we want to increase participation in the immediately post-compulsory schooling years, and we are considering allowances as a way of achieving that.

Mr. Brady: Does the Minister accept that evidence suggests that post-16 participation rates tend to be higher where there is a school sixth form, and does he endorse the tremendous role of school sixth forms in helping to ensure that children stay on in education in post-compulsory school years?

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Mr. Timms: I am happy to endorse and support the tremendous contribution of school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and further education colleges. There is a diversity of provision throughout the country, and that is how it should be. The current education maintenance allowances cannot be taken up after the age of 17. That also prevents the difficulty about which the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) was concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 175 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 176 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 177

Transfer of functions relating to allowances under section 175

10.30 am

Mr. Timms: I beg to move amendment No. 296, in page 106, line 10, leave out from 'authority' to end of line.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 297.

Mr. Timms: These are technical amendments that would allow the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to transfer functions relating to maintenance allowances to an LEA. At the moment, the pilots are run by LEAs. That would be one of the options for a national scheme. As it stands, the clause qualifies LEA with the words

    ''for the purposes of the Education Act 1996''.

That qualification is unnecessary and could also imply a limitation on our ability to delegate a function to local level. I am sure that members of the Committee would agree that we would not want inadvertently to rule out LEAs from this role. The amendments ensure that we will not do so.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 297, in page 106, line 17, leave out from 'authority' to end of line.—[Mr. Timms.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Brady: In the event of the maintenance allowance structure being rolled out nationally, with the possibility of the function relating to the payment of allowances being transferred to local education authorities, does the Minister expect that local authorities would disburse funds according to criteria set out on a national basis in regulations or would there be a discretionary element in the way in which they would use the funds?

Mr. Timms: I envisage a national framework for the allowances scheme. Several candidates could be the operators of the national scheme: the LEAs, the Benefits Agency or the Student Loans Company, for example. I do not rule out the possibility of local discretion on the working of the scheme, but a national framework, with possible local variations, would be introduced to apply across the country.

Question put and agreed to.

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Clause 177, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 178 and 179 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 180

Student loans

Mr. Timms: I beg to move amendment No. 550, in page 107, line 35, after second 'of' insert

    'amounts payable in respect of'.

This is a technical amendment. The clause gives powers to pay off the student loans of individuals who meet criteria set in regulations and enables us to put into place our proposals to pay off over time the outstanding student loans of new shortage subject teachers from September this year. The amendment would clear up any uncertainty that might arise about whether subsection (1)(a) could allow the repayment of interest accrued on a teacher's student loan, as well as the face value of the loan. I want to make it very clear to the Committee that it is our intention that the scheme would allow repayment of the face value of the loan, and of the interest accrued. This amendment is here in order to put that beyond doubt.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 533, ''in page 108, line 7, after

    'regulations', insert ',according to criteria which may include the nature of employment undertaken by a person, or that person's income but not the type of school within which a person is employed.'.''

We are moving into an increasingly diverse pattern of educational provision, with education being provided and paid for both independently and through the academies model, which is provided by independent schools funded by the state.

The amendment seeks to probe the Government's attitude towards the teaching profession. It seeks to rectify an anomaly whereby, for the purposes of clause 180 as it appears in the explanatory notes, the repayment or reduction of student loans as an incentive for those entering the teaching profession is applicable only to those taking up positions in maintained schools. The contention of amendment No. 533 is that teaching is an indivisible profession. One may embark upon a career in a maintained school, then move to an independent school, transfer from that to an academy in a difficult inner-city area, taking on all the challenges that that entails, and then move back to the maintained sector. One may change between maintained schools and independent schools on any number of occasions during a career.

Mr. Willis: This is a mythical journey.

Mr. Brady: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to consider that it might be beneficial if it were not a mythical journey. Perhaps this movement is something that should be encouraged. It might be beneficial to have more movement between maintained and independent schools, particularly as we have the development of a category of state-funded independent schools, which to some extent blurs the distinction between the two categories.

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If a person chooses to enter the teaching profession—the noble pursuit of educating children—is there a fundamental difference between teaching in a maintained school, an independent school or an academy? In terms of the explanatory notes, does the Minister anticipate that the limitation to repay loans would be restricted only to maintained schools and would not cover those teaching in academies? By excluding independent schools, is he excluding state-funded independent schools? That would certainly seem odd, even if he were of the view that only those schools that are financed from the Exchequer would qualify. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments.

During earlier stages of the Committee's deliberations we touched on the way in which the Government are keen to foster links between independent schools and maintained schools. As that process develops, as I hope it will, surely the increased movement of staff between schools will also develop. Surely it is unfair and anomalous for someone to be treated in a worse way in respect of pay and conditions or the golden hello—however Ministers want to phrase it—because they began their career in one school rather than another. The crucial point is that they are a teacher who is developing a career in the teaching profession. That consideration, not the nature of the institution in which someone teaches, should qualify or disqualify them for the assistance.

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