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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 10:46 GMT
Lib Dems 'teachers' friend'
The Liberal Democrats have promised to outspend the Labour and Conservative parties on education.
In an election manifesto launched on Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats says they will increase the government's spending plans for schools by another £3bn.
This would allow for cutting primary school class sizes, the recruitment of 5,000 more secondary teachers and the scrapping of tuition fees for students.
The extra money, which they say would be ring-fenced for education, would be raised by an extra penny on income tax, say the Liberal Democrats.
And the teacher-friendly commitments, such as scrapping performance pay and allowing more lesson preparation time, have been welcomed by teachers' unions.
"Not for the first time, the Liberal Democrats appear to have put forward an education manifesto which would be largely supported by the majority of teachers," says Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolteachers Union of Women Teachers.
"We welcome this policy commitment to significant extra investment in education and the realisation that teachers' quality of life has to be improved," says the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
"Britain has been held back for too long by under-investment in our schools, colleges and universities which is why education is a key priority for the Liberal Democrats," said education spokesperson Phil Willis.
"The Liberal Democrats proposals offer a real chance for real change," said Mr Willis, a former head teacher.
The manifesto proposes a further reduction in class sizes - with a maximum of 25 pupils per class in primary schools.
At present, the government's class size reduction target has been for a maximum of 30 pupils in the early years of primary school.
Under the Liberal Democrats' plans there would also be a classroom assistant in every single infant class.
There is also a commitment to scrapping university tuition fees and a return to student grants.
And there are a number of policies which will appeal to the teachers' unions.
Performance pay would be scrapped, there would be more time for lesson preparation, bureaucracy would be reduced and Ofsted school inspections would be reformed to have a more "positive" approach.
The Labour Party responded by saying that the Liberal Democrat plans threatened the improvements in standards made since they have been in government.
In particular they pointed to the proposals for changes to the national curriculum and a reduction in testing for younger pupils.
"The Liberal Democrat plans would undermine all the gains made in recent years," said the Education Secretary David Blunkett.
This damage would be done, Mr Blunkett claimed, "by abolishing the national curriculum, scrapping the literacy and numeracy strategies, ending assessments for seven-year-olds, abandoning performance-related pay for teachers and denying parents full details of school exam results".
And Labour dismissed plans to reduce primary class sizes, saying that current trends already meant that an average of 25 would be achieved in the next few years.
The Conservatives' education spokesperson attacked the Liberal Democrats for producing an education manifesto, which she said, showed that they were a "joke party, totally removed from reality and who have absolutely no chance of ever winning a general election.
"House of Commons Library analysis shows the total cost of Lib Dem education policies would be nearer £6bn. It is a gaffe from the Liberals which illustrates their utter incoherence on key policy issues."
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