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Early reading to end Assisted Places Scheme

The Education (Schools) Bill, which ends the Assisted Places Scheme and channels the money into reducing class sizes has received its first reading in the House of Commons.

The short Bill has been rushed in to free up cash for the scheme as soon as possible. The Government has pledged to cut classes for children aged five to seven to 30 and under. It has identified 89 education authorities with classes of 31 or more pupils at key stage 1. Lower class sizes are a major part of its campaign to boost literacy and numeracy.

Stephen Byers, minister for school standards, said: "No one should underestimate the impact this will have in schools right across the country where teachers have been left for years to cope with overcrowded classes and where 440,000 young children in England alone have been frustrated in their yearning to learn in these critical years."

He said the phasing out of the Assisted Places Scheme, which subsidises the fees of children from low income households to private schools, would provide a total of pound;100 million by the year 2000.

Mr Byers said children already benefiting from assisted places will continue to receive the subsidy and offers of an assisted place for September 1997 entry will be honoured. Primary school-aged children will keep their assisted places until the end of their primary education and those of secondary age will hold their places up to the age of 18.

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