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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK

Labour fails in Lib Dem test

Class sizes 'have increased since Labour came to power'

Labour's education policies "could do better", according to a half-term school report published by the Liberal Democrats.

The report was unveiled in London by the Lib Dems' education spokesman, Don Foster, as part of the party's campaign for May's local government elections.

Higher class sizes, lower education spending, more unqualified teachers and less teacher recruitment were all highlighted as areas where Labour had failed to deliver.

[ image: Don Foster: Government
Don Foster: Government "lacks originality"
Mr Foster said: "The government is timid. It lacks originality, has a poor eye for detail, and spends too much of its time mimicking its predecessor."

He advised ministers to "spend more time reflecting on what they need to do".

Reducing class sizes was a key Labour pledge before the general election but two years later they were higher than in 1997, he said.

"Secondary school class sizes are at the highest level they have been for 20, education, education is not backed up by resources, resource, resources."

Spending on education in the first year of the Labour government fell by 53 per primary school pupil and 40 per secondary school pupil, said Mr Foster. In the following year, it fell by 44m.

Halfway point

There was a crisis in the classroom with fewer people coming forward to train as teachers, said Mr Foster.

Many schools, especially in London, were dependent on backpacker teachers from abroad, he claimed.

Mr Foster said he would have liked to have given the Conservatives a half term report but they had failed to hand in any work and had spent all their time fighting

But a Labour spokesman accused the Lib Dems of misleading voters. "Their figures on spending relate to the last Tory budget," he said.

"The fact is education spending rose by 1bn in Labour's first education budget for England, and will rise over the next three years by 16bn in England.

"Class sizes are falling in primary schools for the first time in 10 years and Labour is delivering on each and every education promise made to the electorate."

The Liberal Democrats are defending 500 seats gained in the local government elections in 1995.

Nick Harvey, who is head of Lib Dem campaigns, stressed the importance of this year's elections as the "biggest in the cycle of by-elections and also a halfway point".

He admitted that the conflict in Kosovo may have overshadowed media interest in them, but insisted there was a great deal of interest at local level.

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