The full title of our debate is "Wider Choice and Higher Standards in Schools". Those are the first two aims of our education policy and they are closely linked. Wider choice lies at the heart of all our reforms over the past 12 years—that is, the right of parents to choose between different schools and different types of schools. We have begun to end the drab uniformity of council monopoly, under which the only choice was that of the education director.
Future historians will find it extraordinary that parents could be ordered to send their children to schools that they did not choose., not because those schools were the best, but because they were less full and less successful than the schools that the parents wanted. We have widened choice in five ways. First, we have widened it through the assisted places scheme. More than 50,000 pupils have benefited in the 10 years that the scheme has been running and 27,000 will have places for the coming academic year.
On Wednesday, the House debated the assisted places scheme, which costs about £70 million. That is little different from the cost of educating the same number of pupils in the state sector. What is different is that parents have been able to choose and that, under the scheme, less well-off parents have been enabled to choose the very best independent schools.
Secondly, we have widened choice through city technology colleges. The unfulfilled promise of the great Butler Act was its failure to create technical schools of a calibre and reputation to match our great grammar schools. Even the good technical schools that existed were rubbed out by the Crosland comprehensivisation of the mid-1960s. It has taken a Conservative Government to restore great technical colleges in this country and to place them in industrial areas where skills are needed most.