Education (Grants and Awards) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 6 December 1983.

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"( ) In any of the first three years in which education support grants are made at least 10 per cent. of the expenditure shall be used to conduct research:

  1. (i) to measure the relationship between educational achievement and the demands made by schools of parents or guardians for cash payments to schools or others to cover expenditure on a range of activities which shall include paying for distinctive school clothing, books, school photographs, visits, bus fares to sporting fixtures, theatre tickets, material for domestic science and other craft subjects, and school fund raising activities, and
  2. (ii) to determine how grants might be made to parents or guardians to meet such costs."

Mr. Bennett:

When he was replying to the debate on the last group of new clauses, the Minister suggested that in that group and this we were tying the Government's hands to 80 per cent. of the expenditure. We did not push those new clauses to a vote because we accept that the Government may need flexibility. On the other hand, we feel strongly that some resources should be allocated in those directions.

In these two new clauses we are talking about 40 per cent. There is a strong case for earmarking money to try to relieve the poverty which stops many youngsters benefiting fully from the very expensive educational provisions that we make. We proudly proclaim in this country that we introduced primary education in 1870 and that 10 or 12 years later we established free primary education. The textbooks which are published to tell the rest of the world about Britain all stress that we have a free education system. Perhaps we ought to say that it is free at the point of use. That is the basic system.

For most parents the idea of a free education system is nonsense. They know that regularly they are asked to pay for things which are essential if their children are to benefit fully from the education that is offered. We start with the nursery age group. As we have heard, large areas of the country are not covered by free nursery schools but by playgroups. Almost all the playgroups charge. They tend to be in the middle-class or better-off areas of towns. Where they exist across a whole town, we still find that many children are unable to benefit because there is a charge. When I talk to church organisations and those who run playgroups, I find that this is a major problem. They are conscious that children who would get most benefit either have to be subsidised by the other children who attend or are not able to get to the playgroups.

Right from the start finance can be a barrier. Even at primary school level it is amazing how parents are subjected to demands to contribute to their children's education or to the benefit that they get out of their education.

At this time of year many primary schools have a series of activities which relate to Christmas parties. They are often involved in crafts to make table decorations or to decorate the classroom for a Christmas party. It is surprising how many schools ask parents to contribute to such parties. Even some better schools whose head teacher is aware that asking for contributions may embarrass some parents will say, "We do not ask parents to contribute to the school Christmas party; we simply pay for it out of school funds." That seems to ignore the fact that such funds must be raised by asking parents to send in a small sum of money each week with their child or by having a series of fund-raising activities which, although voluntary, may make parents or children feel that they are obliged to contribute.

Most hon. Members, when thinking of their school days, look back with amusement and nostalgia at school photographs. We pick out various people who were in our class. Such photographs cost money and can be the cause of embarassment to parents when they are put under pressure by the school or their child to purchase them. If it is possible to justify a class photograph, it is difficult to justify a practice which is operated by many schools. They allow a commercial photographer into the school to take individual photographs of the pupils. They often send the photographs home with the children with a bill for £4 or £5. Although it is up to the children or the parents to decide whether to buy the photograph, parents are put under pressure to buy the photograph as the children say, "So-and-so is having his picture, can I have mine?"

Many schools want their pupils to wear uniform or distinctive clothing. That too puts pressure on parents to buy clothing which they cannot perhaps afford and may not be able to get from jumble sales and other sources of clothing for people on low incomes.

I should like to relate a story that I was told by a constituent who could not afford to buy a pair of football boots for her older son. Because he showed great skill kicking a football around while wearing pumps, the form teacher who took games carefully ensured that he was loaned a pair of football boots when he reached the third and fourth years and played for the school team. The teacher did that because he knew that the boy's mother would be extremely embarrassed if she was asked to provide him with a pair of football boots. His younger brother, however, was not so good at football and the school could not find the same resourcefulness tactfully to find a pair of football boots for him.

It is not difficult to appreciate the school's problem. If it operates in a hard-up area of a town, it cannot find football boots for every child whose parents cannot afford them. The problem for the parents remains as, although their older boy might have been provided with a pair of boots, they must face up to whether they can afford the £8 or £9 necessary to buy a pair for the younger son.

Problems also arise in regard to bus fares for children who form a football team or a group going on a trip. Schools constantly ask the children or their parents to pay such modest sums. The sums are modest but they are cumulative. A parent who receives social security benefit or just unemployment benefit finds that such sums are a cause of great hardship. Many parents try hard to meet the school's financial demands as they do not want their children to suffer. Moreover, the children are wise enough to know the household's financial difficulties and they tend therefore not to ask their parents to cough up the necessary money.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I am exercising my mind to understand what the hon. Gentleman is driving at. We believe that the education support grant should be used to stimulate activities which are put to good use in the wider generality of education. We have had a debate on Cockcroft and its mathematics. Bearing in mind the fact that there will be competition for places on the shopping list of activities which are to be supported, is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would rather that school photographs were subsidised than that the provisions of the Cockcroft report were included?

Mr. Bennett:

I am not suggesting that the photographs should be subsidised. I am suggesting that there should be some experiment, such as new clause 7 would provide, to see how far parents' problems, when meeting the demands of schools, lead to alienation of parents and some pupils from school. We should also draw a line and say, "These things are essential and should therefore be paid for by the state so that we can genuinely say that we are providing free education." There are other things which schools should not be getting involved in. The problem is that we do not at the moment draw a line.

The number of children and parents who opt out and start failing to co-operate with the school and to take full advantage of what is offered is relatively small in primary schools. In secondary schools, however, the schools' demands to fork out money grow rapidly and there seems to be increasing alienation of some pupils and parents to the schools. We should examine whether the schools' demands to make so many financial contributions lead to a substantial number of children ceasing to get the full benefit.

At primary school level it is the exception for schools to demand a uniform but almost all secondary schools demand one. Many make modest demands —they ask for clothes that are easily available from such shops as Marks and Spencer. Some schools take into account the costs involved and keep them low. Nevertheless, ever that modest cost does not always work to the child's advantage. A school in one of the poorest parts of Stockport has modest school uniform requirements, so the local authority makes a modest contribution to its costs. However, in the case of schools in more affluent suburbs, which feel able to demand a more elaborate uniform the local authority makes a more substantial contribution. If grants for school uniforms genuinely met their full cost, there would be few problems, but that is rare. Local authorities offer vouchers rather than cash so that parents are left feeling that they are receiving charity. They feel uneasy about that.

We should also consider the cost of travelling to school. In many cities, the distance involved is not great but, bearing in mind heavy traffic, parents want their 12 or 13-year-old children to travel by bus. That too can cause considerable financial problems. Because children might have to travel to school, their parents find that they incur costs for school meals. They are often dearer than those which could be provided at home. Parents who live on minimum incomes face real financial difficulties.

Schools are increasingly keen to raise funds because of local authority cuts that have been imposed by the Government. Fund raising often creates problems for low income parents. I refer to such things as tuck shops, which are out to make a profit for the school, and raffle tickets. An increasing number of schools say that they do not have enough books and that it would be nice if pupils bought their own. Many school libraries are smaller and so booksellers are encouraged to visit the school. Such factors place a financial burden on a few parents, which restricts their children's activities. Domestic science teaching in many secondary schools, especially in preparation for examinations, is attractive, as is the preparation for craft examinations, but some pupils who may benefit from such courses choose not to study those subjects because they know that the weekly demands for food for the domestic science course and equipment for the craft course will place a considerable burden on the family income. The result is that pupils opt for a different choice of subjects in the third or fourth year which will place a smaller demand on the family income.

7.30 pm

I appreciate that some schools are extremely good at trying to help low-income families to cope with the demands of school. Unfortunately, many schools do not cope adequately with the problem. When I visit schools regularly ask the head teacher for his opinion of the demands that his school places on parents to cough up cash. Unfortunately, few head teachers know the overall cost. As a teacher, I made such mistakes. A geography teacher is tempted to ask his pupils to bring 50p for a trip out of school. There may be good educational reasons for doing that, but it is easy to forget that what is a small sum of money to the teacher may well strain a family's budget.

Increasingly, the children feel that they cannot pass on the demands to their parents. Some kids always make the mistake of asking for money when their parents have none and cause them embarrassment. Other kids whose parents have the lowest incomes do not even ask. They do not take the notes home from school because they know that the demand for money will be out of the question.

The Government should experiment further to establish how far some children under-attain, under-achieve and under-benefit from the education system because of the poverty in which they live, and the fact that the schools ask them unrealistically to contribute to their supposedly free education.

If there is a major problem of the alienation of many children, caused by their parent's low income as they pass through their secondary schools, the final crunch comes when deciding whether to remain at school or to leave at 16. The Government must face the fact that we have a jumble of financial provisions for children in the 16-to-18 age group. The families of children who stay on at school continue to receive child benefit at £6·50 a week. If the family is on a low income, it may be eligible for family income supplement, and an increasingly smaller number of authorities provide educational maintenance allowances.

If the children leave school and obtain a place on a youth training scheme, which may or may not be as useful as remaining at school, they will earn £25 a week, which most people accept should be increased as it does not provide an adequate income. Should children not obtain a place on a youth training scheme but claim social security and then return to school or attend an educational establishment for fewer than 21 hours a week, they can qualify for £16·50 per week supplementary benefit if they are aged 16 to 17, and £21·45 a week when they are 18.

The income support provisions are in a jumble. If the Government provided adequate income support for all youngsters aged 16 to 18, the number of children staying on at school would increase and their education would benefit. It is also worth noting that the educational standards of children up to the age of 16 would also improve. Nothing is more demoralising to a youngster, when being encouraged to do well and to attempt O-level examinations, than to know that the rest of the class is likely to enter the sixth form or transfer to a sixth form college or a college of further education, but that the financial pressures at home will prevent him or her from obtaining a place. They suffer from increasing disillusion and do not benefit as much as they should up to the age of 16.

The Government must make further provisions. I argue strongly that they should provide a guaranteed income for youngsters aged between 16 and 18 who have no work. The position should be the same be they at school, in part-time education or on a youth training scheme. That suggestion may be pushing the Government too far and they can justifiably say that the resources are not available. But the Government cannot say that they are not prepared to experiment in at least one inner city or local authority area. They could examine the implications of giving grants to all 16 to 18-year-olds in the area, thereby removing some of the financial poverty and difficulties facing youngsters throughout their education. The Government could do much in this respect to improve education provision.

I hope that when the Minister replies he will make it clear that he expects all head teachers to know how much they ask their pupils to contribute. I hope that he insists that head teachers consider the ability of parents on low incomes and those on supplementary benefit to meet such requirements.

I hope that he will also consider carefully the support given by the Government to the assisted places scheme. It seems that Conservative Members are keen to help the low-income family to hit the jackpot by getting their children into an independent school under the assisted places scheme. I hope that the Government are equally enthusiastic in trying to ensure that the children who attend state schools also gain full benefit from the system, even if their parents are on a low income.

I hope that the Government will examine closely the relationship between poverty and the opportunity to benefit from the education system, and that they will strive to ensure that we have a free education system which does not penalise the children of low-income families.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). As he referred to his background in teaching as a means of giving his argument respectability, I shall use my background in teaching to refute some of the hon. Gentleman's arguments. Although I often agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, I feel that he would, in some respects, take us down an undesirable path.

The hon. Gentleman's opinion that schools should not undertake fund-raising activities is undesirable and unhelpful, although I know that he means well. In my experience, fund-raising can be useful to a school as it brings together parents of all types. The children join in and help, and outside money comes in. If a school puts on a Christmas bazaar or a summer fete, it sets out to attract support from the entire district, and even people who do not have children at the school come to the events. The involvement of parents in such activities, even with the assistance of outsiders, is of enormous value.

I recently assisted at the Christmas fair put on by my eight-year-old son's primary school. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) is aware that the school is good, and he has twice experienced the school's value with his own children, as have many other hon. Members who are pleased to use this church school in the state education system, as I have always been. A fortnight ago I helped my wife, who was in charge of the bookstall. The exercise was valuable. Two or three parents assisted on the stall at any one time, and we were all sensitive. If children could not afford to pay, I would give them the book that they wanted. If they could afford to pay only a little, I would not charge much. There was no awkwardness or discrimination. The activity was lively. Almost every parent was involved, including poor parents— some of them as poor as or poorer than Members of Parliament.

I used to hold similar views to those expressed by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, but I changed my mind. Often facilities that are provided without any effort from the parents or children are less valued than the facilities that required a little struggle to acquire them. I do not argue with the hon. Gentleman's point that, in principle, education must be completely free. However, when parents get together and say, "Beyond the basic facilities of this school we should provide a little extra and we shall make a special effort to have a swimming pool installed or to provide an extra special library," those facilities often mean a great deal t? children, because their parents tell them not to abuse such facilities since they have sweated blood to provide them.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but the problem is that in some areas parents cannot afford to make such contributions. In parts of my constituency, and perhaps in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), there is no money for such facilities. As the HMI reports show, there are widening differences between areas and schools because parents in some areas can afford to contribute towards the facilities while others cannot.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to my fundamental premise, which is that all facilities should be provided free of charge and without discrimination. But I repeat that fund-raising efforts are valuable. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, fares to sports matches can be paid out of the money raised. Schools could provide smart new football shirts for the school team, which would give tremendous pleasure to the children, who could have the latest style of shirt and could look like an England side in miniature. There would then he no discrimination or awkwardness. The money raised by such efforts could subsidise school shows by paying for the lighting. Tickets could be provided free to old age pensioners, and a proper community effort could be made. Old people get tremendous pleasure from mixing with children and seeing their shows.

Parental contributions to school funds cannot be obligatory, and never have been in my experience. Sensitive teachers have always been able to spot the child who cannot afford to bring money to the school, so the contribution is neither sought nor expected. Teachers are more sensitive than the hon. Gentleman gives them credit for.

7.45 pm

Schools make a profit from school photographs and, as you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is a great pleasure for children to have photographs of themselves and their friends. Sometimes discounts of 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. can be obtained from the company that takes the school photograph, so there is a profit for the school funds.

We cannot always have all that we want. It is very sad for an adult to refuse a child something that he wants, and I find it far more difficult to say no to children than I do to myself and other adults. However, it must sometimes be said, and it is not always bad for children to learn that they cannot have everything, because that is how life will treat them, unless they are the favoured few.

I support what the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said about uniform grants. There should be no difficulty for parents who need a uniform grant with which to equip their children for school. Local authorities must consider such grants carefully to ensure that they are sufficient to provide the minimum school uniform in the form of a blazer, shirt and tie. In my experience, sensitive headmasters always know which children receive uniform grants and ensure that, if there is some difficulty, the basic grant is topped up. School uniforms are of great value, because the children look and feel alike. I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman make that point, because I thought that he did not approve of school uniforms.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I do not approve of expensive school uniforms and the hon. Gentleman should think carefully before saying that school uniform produces uniform appearance. With most secondary school pupils a uniform highlights the difference in parental income, because uniforms do not always wear well. The uniform does not have the effect that many people claim—it does not reduce distinctions among parental incomes.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I agree that school uniforms should not be expensive, and most parents, whether they receive a grant towards it or not, will ensure that the uniform is not expensive, because children grow out of it quickly. It is a waste of money to buy a new uniform every two or three months. We must ensure that children do not forsake the official school uniform for a uniform encouraged by their peers, which can lead to their feeling inadequate when compared with other pupils. Girls especially will dress smartly for school party days, and may embarrass their peers. For those reasons, I support the wearing of a school uniform.

It is often the case that parents cannot afford to contribute towards facilities for their children, yet those children can go to the ice cream van or to the hot dog van and buy Coca Cola and crisps. I have never understood that. I would ban those vehicles, and say that, by law they should not be allowed within 100 or 200 yards of the school, because they have a disruptive effect upon the pupils and the school.

Photo of Mr Sean Hughes Mr Sean Hughes , Knowsley South

I have already referred, both on Second Reading and in Committee, to the educational deprivation of constituencies such as mine, and I have stressed many times the importance of educational ethos in such areas. Much of what I have heard from the Conservative Benches, both on this new clause and earlier ones, has been irrelevant to areas such as mine. I long to see the day when my constituency is populated by the ideal man of the middle ages, with a thirst for knowledge for its own sake. I applaud and value academic excellence. It is no less relevant to areas such as mine than it is to the more pleasant parts of the country. However, I am not blind to the realities, or to the pressure under which our young people live, which is enormous.

Young people under 16 are being enticed to leave school, but not because of the attraction of employment, because in areas such as mine there is 62 per cent. unemployment. They do not leave because of the attraction of excitement and action, because the society in which late teenagers in such areas move is one of boredom. They have a future of disillusionment, of lying in bed late in the morning, hanging around increasingly delinquent and decayed shopping centres in the afternoon and becoming objects of police suspicion in the evening. For them, the immediate attractions of the pittance that is doled out by the DHSS is enough to encourage pupils, aware of the family pressures that they are under, to leave school.

Conservative Members might argue that it is a better and richer alternative to stay on at school rather than face such a life. I agree, but it is a measure of the collapse of morale and the absence of educational ethos that it does not happen in areas such as mine. That is all the more reason why the Government should do something, no matter how small, to encourage young people to stay on at school after the age of 16, for example by making the proposed education maintenance allowance.

Far too often, when Conservative Members speak about the sixth form, they refer only to the traditional academic sixth form. In areas of real educational deprivation there are many who at the age of 16, lack basic education skills such as numeracy and literacy. Thousands leave school at 16 who are lost for ever to the pleasures of reading or the importance of gaining those basic prerequisites for life in a so-called civilised society because they leave school unfulfilled.

Earlier this evening, we heard arguments in favour of the value of grammar school segregation. I am appalled by the fact that in the late 20th century hon. Members can honestly believe that there is an elite of 20 or 25 per cent. who deserve, or are entitled to, superior education. I am unconvinced of the argument in favour of the innate nature of intelligence. We have a duty at every stage of a young person's development and beyond to encourage him or her to develop his or her skills. One such stage is the age of 16.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not believe that some people are born cleverer and more intelligent than others?

Photo of Mr Sean Hughes Mr Sean Hughes , Knowsley South

There are Conservative Members who have prominent forebears who are living examples of the fact that intelligence is not hereditary. I do not accept the idea that intelligence is something to which one is born.

It is one of the modern sins, crying to heaven for vengeance, that we do not encourage our teachers to capture the imagination of those pupils whose deprived environment mitigates against them ever making the most of their educational opportunities. That is why new clause 4, although a modest step, is at least a step in the right direction.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

Clause 4 tackles one of the most difficult problems facing education. The division of people who do or do not stay on after the age of 16 marks one of the greatest divisions in our educational system. If hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that education after 16 is desirable for some children, it must be desirable for all children. Our first priority in secondary education should be to extend the benefits of education after the age of 16 to all children. This clause begins to tackle that problem.

This is a particular problem in cities such as my own, Stoke-on-Trent, where there are sixth form colleges. That means that there is inevitably a natural break at 16, and there is a temptation to leave when friendships, routines and familiarity are broken up. Other cities and other education authorities that have that problem will know the difficulty of persuading students to stay on in a sixth form college.

The problem is a wider one than that of cities such as my own, for it is a national one. The most up-to-date education statistics are those for 1981 and 1982, and they make horrific reading. At 15, we have 862,000 children in education, at 16 the figure drops to 261,000 and at 17 to 147,000. That is a drop from 91·7 per cent. of all 15-year-old children at school, to 27·2 per cent. of all 16-year-olds, which is a disastrous drop.

In the past Governments of both political parties have not addressed or tackled this problem. If clause 4 can even begin to do so, to tackle a crying need, it could make a valuable contribution. A drop from 91·7 per cent. to 27·2 per cent., to 15 per cent. at the age of 17, shows that Governments of both political complexions have failed children in not providing the continuity and quality of education that it is our duty, as the governing body of the country, to provide.

That must be a significant factor in the reasons why only 7·5 per cent. of any particular age group stay on to any form of higher education, and why even fewer are in university education. It is an educational scandal that so few students progress to develop all their ability, which they undoubtedly have, through further and university education. Not only are students who are deprived of the opportunity and the encouragement to do that weaker as individuals, but we as a country are weaker. Governments of both political complexions have in their time called out for greater skills, but there has been an impoverishment of the provision for making skills in higher education and university. The roots of that problem must go back to the fact that we cannot hold on to our students after the age of 16.

Most right hon. and hon. Members now in the Chamber have been in education and have been teachers. That is perhaps a sad comment on the House, but it is none the less fact. There may be particular reasons why we do not attract students to higher education. There may be things that we can do, and new clause 6 would have a part to play in making a more relevant, flexible and specific curriculum that relates to life, particularly a non-exam based curriculum.

8 pm

However, the real problem is not in the curriculum. It is the more basic problem, the primary problem, before one reaches the more sophisticated problem of drawing up a sixth form curriculum, of attracting students to stay on. The fundamental problem is: can we persuade parents to encourage their children to stay on? As unemployment increases and households are in desperate need of cash, the root of the problem is often money. Understandably, when parents are unemployed, they need another person bringing in an income, however small. The new clause provides at least an opportunity for some educational maintenance awards, which have been recognised during the past 10 years as being an essential prerequisite of serious continuity in education.

Most of the items specified in new clause 7 as extra payments and for research into the use and educational benefit of additional expenditure, on top of the normal curriculum, are to some extent non-educational. I was interested to see that theatre tickets are included in the list. The theatre is an important way in which the lives of students can be enriched. I speak as a former teacher, and I am horrified to discover how many people leave school without ever having visited the theatre or having an opportunity to discover it as a method of communication of interest to them. Much progress could be made here.

However, the matter does not stop there. If the chance to go to the theatre is seen as an important part of the education of every child, the chance to have contacts with all the arts is equally important. During the past five or six years, important steps have been made by regional arts associations, the Arts Council of Great Britain, and by one or two organisations such as W. H. Smith and Son Ltd. and the Gulbenkian foundation, to establish writers in school schemes throughout the country, writers' bursaries, and artists in school schemes. I have done much research into the matter. Most people who are involved in education, certainly most teachers in the arts, educational advisers and people in regional arts associations and the Arts Council, recognise that this is an important area for future development. Students should be able to talk to artists and have an opportunity to discover what it is that an artist, a dancer, a painter, a sculptor or a poet is trying to communicate to and about their society. If that is considered an important part of education it involves additional money without which most education authorities cannot integrate it into the normal curriculum. The money usually comes, at least in part, from the school fund, and parents are often reluctant, or unable to meet extra demands on their resources.

I regret that the new clause proposes only at least 10 per cent. of the expenditure". That 10 per cent. could be valuably spent as a form of research to establish a need for children of all ages. If the Government accept the new clause, I hope that the 10 per cent. will concentrate on the educational potential that is inherent in paragraph (i). While I accept that school clothing and photographs are valuable, I believe that an educational pearl is buried in the oyster of paragraph (i) which could greatly benefit children throughout the country and set standards which could be followed by all education authorities.

I welcome both the new clauses, and I hope that the Government will see the benefit, good sense and genuine concern that they express for the quality of education and the continuing opportunity that they contain for all children to develop their full potential.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

We have had a most useful debate. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said that many young persons were being enticed away from school. However, he must know that the trend in recent years has been one of historical increases in staying on at 16. For example, in 1978–79, the proportion of 16-yearold young persons staying on was about 41 per cent. In 1982–83, the proportion had increased to nearly 49 per cent. So I gently correct the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

That may be the national figure, but I think the Minister will find that in many of the deprived areas the staying on rate has not increased as dramatically as it has in the rest of the country.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I take that point. I was quoting a global figure. but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would accept that there has been an increase even in the deprived areas.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

It was 41·4 per cent. in 1978–79, and an increase in 1982–83 to nearly 49 per cent.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

What is the source of the Minister's statistics? The statistics that I quoted were from the 1983 edition of the education statistics for the United Kingdom and they show a drop to 27 per cent. in any age group staying on after 16, with a figure of only 15 per cent. for 17-year-olds. There seems to be a wide discrepancy between my figures and the Minister's figures. It would help to know where the Minister's figures come from.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

My figures come from the Department of Education and Science's statistics section. Of course, I shall undertake to check the figures, and I shall write to the hon. Member to clarify the position. I should not want to be at odds with him after he made such an excellent speech.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Perhaps I might insert a figure. I have here the figure from the 1982 education statistics, paragraph 2.10. The participation rate of those over school leaving age today is 22 per cent. So I do not understand the Minister's figures.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

My figures include children who are going on to non-advanced further education. That might widen the figures. However, so that there may be no dispute between us, I undertake to clarify the situation for the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and I shall send copies of this correspondence to the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice).

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked about school uniforms. I think that there was cross-party harmony about the need for greater action. I remind my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that the LEA has discretion to provide grants for school clothing and it has the power to provide clothing. It is for that authority to decide its policies, and it is not open to the Secretary of State or to me to intervene or impose requirements. It is for the LEA and governors to decide whether schools should require pupils to wear some form of uniform. I welcome the mixed support of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish on that matter. Of course, there is more than one view on whether that is desirable. My own experience from visiting schools, especially in inner city areas where there are particular family resources problems, shows that most schools go out of their way to have a cheaper and more serviceable uniform for children in deprived areas. That is something which we all welcome.

The effect of new clause 4 would be to require at least 30 per cent. of education support grants in the first three years to be used to support local education authorities' expenditure on education maintenance awards. Almost all local education authorities pay education maintenance awards. I admit that not many students qualify and that the amounts paid may not be large. However, there are perhaps only a handful of authorities that do not pay any awards.

The effect of new clause 7 would be that a further 10 per cent. would be used to conduct research into the relationship between educational achievement and parental contributions of various sorts and the payment of grants to cover such costs.

The law gives local education authorities complete discretion whether to pay education maintenance awards and equal discretion over the basis on which to establish the entitlement and value of such awards. The relationship that exists between local education authorities and the Government is a partnership. I do not wish to give a commitment to intervene in an area of discretion that naturally devolves upon the local education authority. It is for an authority to determine its policy in the light of its view of local needs and of immediate priorities.

The House will know that the aggregate expenditure of local authorities in recent years has risen from about £3·3 million in 1979–80 to about £6·6 million in 1981–82. Local education authorities also have powers to pay discretionary grants to further education students. In 1981–82 the total of all these payments, including education maintenance awards, was about £28 million. However, some payments were made for travel and books and not all of the £28 million was expended necessarily on those in the 16 to 19-year age group.

If authorities can contain their costs, the provision in the 1984£85 rate support grant settlement for discretionary awards should allow the majority of authorities to maintain the number of discretionary awards at the 1981–82 level. As some courses have been designated for mandatory awards since 1981–82, there should be some scope for authorities to increase the number of awards for other courses.

I do not believe that education support grants have a role to play in pupil and student support. Expenditure support grants are not intended to provide general financial support for any part of a local education authority's expenditure. As the House knows, that is the purpose of the block grant. Expenditure in support of which ESGs can be paid is deliberately limited to a small proportion of total local authority expenditure. The purpose of the grants is to encourage the redeployment of expenditure at the margin in areas of especial importance. The work that is supported by the grants is likely to be concerned with new developments—for example, financing pilot projects for records of achievement—and not in support of general expenditure. For these reasons, I do not regard education maintenance allowances as an appropriate area for education support grants.

The Government cannot accept new clause 7. However, I congratulate the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish on his capable ingenuity in tabling and introducing the clause. He knows and I know that it has nothing to do with the purpose of the Bill. However, as it has been debated I shall in all courtesy say something about the contributions that are made by parents to "schools or others". The position in law is clear. Local education authorities have a duty under section 7 of the Education Act 1944 to secure efficient education for the population in their areas. Under section 8 of the same Act they have a duty to provide schools which are Sufficient in number, character and equipment to afford for all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes". 8.15 pm

Section 61 requires that No fees shall be charged … in respect of the education provided in any maintained school. It follows that schools may not lawfully charge for the education that is provided. It does not follow that parents are prevented from contributing voluntarily towards the total cost of everything that is involved in running a school, or towards specific items within that cost.

The Government and Conservative Members have made it clear on many occasions that we see no reason why parents should not make such contributions provided always that they are genuinely voluntary. That means that schools should make it clear that contributions are wholly voluntary when they are invited to be made towards the cost of the education provided, and that children whose parents are unable or unwilling to make them will not be penalised. There is nothing new in that. Parents and parent-teacher associations have played an invaluable role form any years in making help available to schools throughout the country in a wide variety of ways, and all credit to them for so doing.

I recognise the concern that is reflected in Her Majesty's inspectorate's reports on the effect of local authority expenditure policies on the education service, but some schools are able in the nature of things to attract much higher revenue than others from parents and to do so more widely from the local community. The duty of local education authorities is to ensure that efficient education is provided and that schools, among other things, are sufficiently equipped. That duty extends to all schools that an authority maintains.

Local education authorities must be prepared to take the necessary action to ensure that their legal duties are met. The realities, however, have little if anything to do with the clause, which is only a device to raise some of the issues to which I have referred. I recommend to the House that the new clauses be rejected.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I am disappointed that the Minister's response to the new clauses has been so unenthusiastic. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) described what seemed to be a fairly typical situation in a middle-class neighbourhood. He talked about considerable parental support for a school and the ability of those in the neighbourhood to raise substantial extra sums to subsidise the school and to provide items which five or six years earlier would have been provided by the state in any event.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North said that it is easy in an area of the sort which he described for sensitive parents or teachers to deal with the few children with parents on low incomes to ensure that they do not feel too deprived. He said also that it is important that youngsters should learn that they cannot have everything. I accept that, but it is important that youngsters should not be denied their basic education because parents cannot make financial contributions.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I was not describing a middle-class area. I was describing a school which draws children from the poorest homes, the not so poor and the middle class. However, there is by no means a majority of middle-class children in that school.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance that he was not describing what is basically a middle-class area. I suggest, however, that he examines some of the areas in which 25 to 30 per cent. of parents are unemployed and where people have been out of work in large numbers for 12 months or more. In those areas it is extremely difficult for schools to raise money by voluntary effort. When they raise money, the raise only small sums compared with some schools in richer areas. The hon. Member for Ealing, North said that children must learn that their parents cannot afford everything. However, I am convinced that in many schools children are denied basic education because their parents cannot contribute to it. That is a major problem, which must be examined.

I am amazed at the amount of correspondence that follows every subject that I raise. I receive more correspondence from people pointing out to me the hardships that they feel they suffer because of the charges imposed on parents by schools—even though they are voluntary—than on many other issues that I raise. I am convinced that those charges cause parents considerable difficulty. I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) know of many parents in their areas who cannot afford the demands that are made.

The Manpower Services Commission has considerably underspent on the amount of money that it is putting into youth training. The Department of Education and Science ought to bid for that money not just for experiments, as we suggest in the new clause, but for educational maintenance grants to all pupils to ensure that those children who could benefit from staying on at school or from going on to further education do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central referred to theatre tickets. I am amazed at the number of children who are expected to do CSE and O-level English Literature and to study the text of plays but who have never had an opportunity to see those plays performed on the stage. Rarely does a school manage to arrange for all the pupils who are studying those texts to visit the theatre. Almost all schools must ask parents to contribute to the cost of the theatre tickets and often the cost of the coach to take the children to the theatre. Inevitably, some children do not go because of the cost.

The Under-Secretary accurately described the position of educational maintenance awards. However, few local authorities have the money to make them available either via a means test, or at a level that enables many children to benefit from them, and that certainly does not do much to encourage take-up of those awards.

Hon. Members who have listened to the debate and those who read it will feel that the Government have not addressed themselves to the fact that poverty is increasing and that, therefore, a few children do not receive the full benefit from our education system. We ought to be devising experiments and methods of maintenance support that will ensure that all children benefit from our education system. The system is expensive, but it is a waste of resources to deny a small number of children the financial support that they need to take full advantage of the education system. I hope that the House will support the new clause as a sign that it believes that the Government ought to be doing much more to address themselves to the problem of poverty in education.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 109, Noes 199.

Division No. 90][8.23 pm
Alton, DavidDuffy, A. E. P.
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Eastham, Ken
Beckett, Mrs MargaretEllis, Raymond
Beith, A. J.Evans, Ioan (Cynon Valley)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Blair, AnthonyEwing, Harry
Boothroyd, Miss BettyFaulds, Andrew
Boyes, RolandField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bray, Dr JeremyFields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Fisher, Mark
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Flannery, Martin
Bruce, MalcolmForrester, John
Caborn, RichardFreud, Clement
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Godman, Dr Norman
Canavan, DennisGolding, John
Cartwright, JohnHamilton, James (M'well N)
Clarke, ThomasHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Clay, RobertHardy, Peter
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Harman, Ms Harriet
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Haynes, Frank
Craigen, J.M.Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Home Robertson, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Dewar, DonaldHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Dormand, JackJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Douglas, DickKirkwood, Archibald
Dubs, AlfredLambie, David
Lamond, JamesRandall, Stuart
Leighton, RonaldRedmond, M.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Richardson, Ms Jo
Lofthouse, GeoffreyRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
McGuire, MichaelRogers, Allan
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Rooker, J. W.
Madden, MaxRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Marek, Dr JohnRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Martin, MichaelRowlands, Ted
Mason, Rt Hon RoyShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Maxton, JohnShort, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Maynard, Miss JoanSkinner, Dennis
Meadowcroft, MichaelSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Michie, WilliamSnape, Peter
Mikardo, IanSoley, Clive
Millan, Rt Hon BruceSpearing, Nigel
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Steel, Rt Hon David
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Nellist, DavidThorne, Stan (Preston)
O'Neill, MartinWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWareing, Robert
Park, GeorgeWinnick, David
Penhaligon, David
Pike, PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Mr. Don Dixon and Mr. John McWilliam.
Prescott, John
Radice, Giles
Alexander, RichardDurant, Tony
Amess, DavidDykes, Hugh
Ashby, DavidEvennett, David
Aspinwall, JackEyre, Reginald
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Fallon, Michael
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Favell, Anthony
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Finsberg, Geoffrey
Baldry, AnthonyFookes, Miss Janet
Batiste, SpencerForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFranks, Cecil
Bellingham, HenryFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Benyon, WilliamFreeman, Roger
Best, KeithGale, Roger
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnGalley, Roy
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterGardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Body, RichardGarel-Jones, Tristan
Boscawen, Hon RobertGoodlad, Alastair
Bottomley, PeterGower, Sir Raymond
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Greenway, Harry
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gregory, Conal
Braine, Sir BernardGriffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGriffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bright, GrahamGround, Patrick
Brinton, TimGrylls, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Bruinvels, PeterHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Budgen, NickHampson, Dr Keith
Bulmer, EsmondHannam, John
Burt, AlistairHargreaves, Kenneth
Butterfill, JohnHarvey, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Carttiss, MichaelHawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHawksley, Warren
Chope, ChristopherHayes, J.
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Hayhoe, Barney
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hayward, Robert
Clegg, Sir WalterHenderson, Barry
Cockeram, EricHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Colvin, MichaelHirst, Michael
Conway, DerekHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cope, JohnHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Cormack, PatrickHolt, Richard
Couchman, JamesHooson, Tom
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHordern, Peter
Dicks, T.Howard, Michael
Dorrell, StephenHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardHubbard-Miles, Peter
Dunn, RobertHunt, David (Wirral)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Onslow, Cranley
Hunter, AndrewOppenheim, Philip
Jessel, TobyOsborn, Sir John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Ottaway, Richard
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPawsey, James
Key, RobertPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Pollock, Alexander
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Porter, Barry
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Powell, William (Corby)
Knowles, MichaelPowley, John
Knox, DavidPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Lang, IanProctor, K. Harvey
Lawler, GeoffreyRaffan, Keith
Lawrence, IvanRathbone, Tim
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Rhodes James, Robert
Lester, JimRidsdale, Sir Julian
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Roe, Mrs Marion
Lightbown, DavidSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lilley, PeterSayeed, Jonathan
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Skeet, T. H. H.
Lord, MichaelSpence, John
McCrindle, RobertSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McCurley, Mrs AnnaStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Macfarlane, NeilStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Stradling Thomas, J.
McQuarrie, AlbertTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Madel, DavidTemple-Morris, Peter
Malins, HumfreyTerlezki, Stefan
Malone, GeraldThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Maples, JohnThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Marland, PaulThome, Neil (Ilford S)
Marlow, AntonyTracey, Richard
Mates, MichaelTrippier, David
Maude, FrancisTwinn, Dr Ian
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWaller, Gary
Mellor, DavidWard, John
Merchant, PiersWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Meyer, Sir AnthonyWells, John (Maidstone)
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Wheeler, John
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Whitney, Raymond
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Wilkinson, John
Moore, JohnWood, Timothy
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Yeo, Tim
Moynihan, Hon C.Younger, Rt Hon George
Murphy, Christopher
Neale, GerrardTellers for the Noes:
Needham, RichardMr. John Major and Mr. Michael Neubert.
Nicholls, Patrick
Norris, Steven

Question accordingly negatived.