Assisted places go as shake-up begins

16th May 1997 at 01:00
The Queen's Speech on Wednesday confirmed the Prime Minister's promise that "the education of young people will be my Government's first priority". But no specifically Scottish education legislation is planned among the 22 Bills announced for the next 18 months.

The only legislation that applies north of the border is the abolition of the Pounds 14 million assisted places scheme for independent schools. This will, unusually for education, be contained in the one British Bill which will have no other provisions in it. Phasing out assisted places is an essential first step to fund a pledge to cut class sizes in the first three years of primary.

Officials say the absence of Scottish legislation is not particularly significant. "We will no doubt be following the standard Scottish practice of issuing consultation papers, guidelines and circulars," one said. "We don't believe in legislating for everything."

The major English Bill aims to raise standards by setting up a General Teaching Council and introducing compulsory qualifications for headteachers.

Labour will protect pupils on assisted places, including those to be taken up next session. But the legislation will prevent independents offering more places for next year. Brian Wilson, the Scottish Education Minister, expressed "delight" at the move.

Judith Sischy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said: "Unfortunately they see it as an ideological scheme that has to go. Our main task now is to protect the pupils already in the scheme and look to the future, including the possibility of closer links with the education authority sector. But independent schools have always admitted children who cannot afford the fees and they will undoubtedly continue to do so."

There was no specific reference in the speech to the nursery voucher scheme, although a Scottish Office statement this week reflected the winds of change: "The bureaucratic nursery voucher scheme will be scrapped as soon as practicable." Arrangements in Scotland for 1997-98 will be announced shortly.

One Bill that will apply throughout the UK is legislation allowing education and other projects to benefit from the National Lottery.

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