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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Perhaps I may speak a little on this from my own professional experience. I want to approach the Government for compassion. I want to underline the particular problem of those schools which have a junior school which is an integral part of the whole school. Such schools are common among the London day schools and I am underlining the point made by the headmaster of Norwich School.
These are schools with a junior and a senior section but there is no barrier between them. The staff are interchangeable. The children sing in a choir which is a choir of the whole school. The children play in an orchestra which is an orchestra of the whole school. The children eat in dining halls which are the dining halls of the whole school. In answer to the noble Lord who has just spoken, it is not the same as any other school in the system.
When these children were admitted at eight, nine or 10, they received a letter from the headmaster which assumed that they would exist in that school until they left at 18. A letter was written by the headmaster under the old scheme. There is no examination when they move at 11; they just move up class by class. These children will as a result have their whole education interrupted because these schools have syllabuses which are integrated and which see the child going on through the whole school. As I said in the Second Reading debate, the children will have begun French two or three years before; they will have begun Latin; and it is assumed that they will go on doing this right through the school. At a personal level, they will be the only ones leaving that school. Let us say there are five or six assisted places children in that year. They will see the rest of their year going on but they will be thrown out.
This is not a clever ruse to keep the system going on. I appreciate the difficulties the Government face. We are talking I suppose of about 1,700 children (and the number will inevitably get less) but I do ask the Government to consider the personal situation of these children particularly--and I underline the situation again--as they will be the only ones leaving the school in that year. This is very painful to young children of 11. I am not producing a sob story for the sake of it. I ask the Government to give some thought to it. I say again this is not a clever ruse.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is one of the peculiarities of this being a self regulating Chamber that, since we regulate ourselves and each other, there is nobody to say that the noble Lord is not speaking to the amendment and that the speech is out of order. There is nobody to say that that is a Second Reading speech and it should not come in at Committee.
When the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, made a Second Reading speech (and he will admit that it was a Second Reading speech) on an earlier amendment, I welcomed it because of his special position. It is, after all, his baby that we are phasing out--if you can phase out a baby. I am not sure what the physiological effect of that
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is in a very different position. He has also made a Second Reading speech, and I think he would admit that he has made a Second Reading speech. But he did not say a word about the amendments which are in his name. He asked me a whole series of questions about the coupling of the assisted places scheme with the reduction in class sizes; when the savings would materialise; what our view was of the Institute of Fiscal Studies' calculations of the savings as compared to our calculations. The noble Lord is entitled to have doubts about the merits of the scheme and he is entitled to express them, although it would have been better if they had been expressed at Second Reading. I am the first to acknowledge that he is an independent, as is the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, with whom I have stood shoulder to shoulder against his Government on more than one occasion. These are independent opposition Back-Benchers.
That is not my criticism. My problem with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is that although other noble Lords may range as widely as they wish, I have to reply to the amendments on the order paper and it would be quite wrong for me to go beyond that. Therefore, although I would love to engage with him in a debate on the Institute of Fiscal Studies, I do not think it would be proper for me to do so. I am interested also that, if I may say so, he has not been paying full attention to the earlier parts of the debate; otherwise he would not find himself making the same quotation from this week's White Paper as had been made an hour or so earlier by his noble friend Lord Henley.
If I may return to the amendments on the Marshalled List, I think it would be helpful if I reminded the Committee, because of the talk about further extension of the phasing out of the scheme, of recent developments in its operation. Until September 1996 the assisted places scheme provided support for only secondary age pupils. Most entry places--about 5,000--were available at age 11, but children could join a scheme at other ages, particularly at 13 or 16. In the academic year 1995 to 1996 there were 34,000 pupils in Great Britain on the scheme, and 38,000 places available.
In 1995 the then Government launched a massive expansion programme. They committed themselves to doubling the size of the scheme and that meant that there were nearly 5,000 new entry places--that is, places for new entrants in senior schools. Some of these schools had integral junior departments--and I am going to come back to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. For the first time assisted places below 11 were created: about 100 places for children as young as five, and 800 places for children below age 11.
This itself would not have been enough to double the size of the scheme, so they went on a further bidding round targeting preparatory schools and including schools which provided only primary education. They
Those commitments which were made in the last days of the last Government will be adhered to. The scheme continues in September 1997. But we had to take a careful and balanced view of the extent of the support that those pupils should continue to receive. We made it clear in Opposition that we would honour commitments. We made clear also our intention to phase out the scheme over a period of seven years. Because the vast majority of places were available at 11 and above, that meant that they could continue to complete their secondary education through to A-levels.
Providing for primary school children to keep their places through to age 18, including children as young as five, would have meant running the scheme for another 13 years instead of the seven years to which we were committed. I do not think that anyone could genuinely take on a commitment to fund children as young as five for another 13 years, in particular because of the views we have expressed, at Second Reading and when considering earlier amendments, about the merits of the scheme.
Therefore, we decided that support should be available until primary school aged pupils could transfer to the maintained sector at a point which would not disrupt their education in the long term. We do not accept that providing for children to change schools at age 11 is unreasonable. That is what happens to nearly everyone else in the country. Half a million children change schools between primary and secondary stages. Nor do I accept that the schools that they will go to at age 11 will be inferior. There are many excellent state schools and they can cater for the more able.
Our approach is to give primary aged pupils as of right support under the scheme until age 11. We take the view that that is the sensible age to transfer to the maintained sector. Indeed, it is in their interests to transfer when most of their contemporaries are entering secondary school.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, appears to query the discretionary power given to the Secretary of State to allow primary aged pupils to continue to hold their places. Usually the Opposition would seek to extend such discretionary powers. I am somewhat surprised that he criticises. However, he is perfectly justified to ask under what circumstances such discretionary powers can be used. I can give the noble Lord three cases which will not necessarily be exhaustive but will give him a flavour of what can be done.
Secondly, there is the question of those who come into secondary education before the age of 11. There are some who come in at age 10; and if they genuinely enter into secondary education it would be sensible to use the discretion in their favour.
Thirdly, there is the situation where a clear promise has been given that the child should continue. I rather think that that covers the case which the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, raises of the school with an integrated junior and senior school. The noble Lord gave what seemed to be a somewhat idealistic description of what happens in those integrated schools. I believe that he would acknowledge that even in those schools where they share all these facilities, a large number of pupils usually change school at the age of 11; they enter or leave the school at age 11. Therefore, the seamless robe which he describes is somewhat of an exaggeration. It is most unlikely that the only pupils who would change would be those who have been deprived of their assisted place, as he suggests.
Lord Henley: Before the noble Lord moves on--it is an important point--is he giving an assurance that those pupils in the schools to which my noble friend Lord Pilkington referred will be covered by the discretion that the Secretary of State has? The noble Lord speaks from the Dispatch Box. He speaks for the Government. I think that he should consider carefully what he says in answer. We want to know whether that discretion will be absolute for those pupils in all-in-one schools.
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