I cannot add to what I have said; we shall be discussing this matter at length next week. The power to enforce minimum standards will remain as it is today. The circular has already had a marked effect on local authorities' practice. By contrast with the figure which I have just given it should be noted, for example, that in the case of 15-year-old children well over 100 local education authorities paid smaller maximum allowances than £40 before the circular was issued, and only four were known to pay more. The maximum allowance for a 16-year-old is now £55 a year, but before the circular was issued 123 authorities paid less than £1 per week. and 91 of these did not go beyond 15s. a week.
The new maximum grant of £65 a year at a net income of £300 a year, which applies to the 17-year-olds, is more generous than any of the earlier scales. The deduction of £50 per annum now permitted in respect of other dependent children is also substantially higher than the figure used by the majority of authorities at the time that the Working Party was making its investigations.
I said earlier on that the Working Party was unable to establish any direct relationship between early leaving and the amounts paid in maintenance allowances. The Working Party, however, recognised that there was undoubtedly some connection, and if this is so then my right hon. Friend sincerely hopes that the improved scales will help to reduce even further the figures of premature leavers. The figures which we have show a consistent and most encouraging improvement from year to year, and it will be the wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House that this trend should continue.
But there is, to my mind, an even more important aspect to this problem. It is no use providing excellent educational facilities in our schools and further education colleges if children are not able to make the best use of them because of parental circumstances. The promise which runs through the Education Act of 1944, that every child shall receive an education suited to his age, ability and aptitude, is one derived as much from a sense of justice as from a belief that the country cannot afford to waste the talent of its young people.
I believe that the proposals set forth in Circular No. 327 will do much to bring that promise to fruition, and as one who has had a chance, during the last few weeks, to see the progress that we have made since 1944, it is nice to be able to stand at this Dispatch Box and describe something which will help us to go still further along that road.