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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Lib Dems promise class size cuts
classroom scene
Average primary school classes have 26.2 pupils
The Liberal Democrats say they would cut primary school class sizes in England if they were to form the next government.

At their conference in Bournemouth, they promised to reduce infant classes to 20 or fewer within five years.

Those for children aged eight to 10 would have a maximum of 25 pupils.

Then if re-elected they would set limits of 15 and 20. Currently the only limit is of 30, for those aged five to seven.

Curriculum

Some observers have said the government has missed a golden opportunity to reduce primary class sizes, because the number of young children in the population is falling - whereas primary school teacher recruitment has risen.

The Liberal Democrats also said they would replace the "bureaucratic and prescriptive" national curriculum with a "minimum curriculum entitlement" - giving teachers more say in what was taught.

They say their plans would cost about 400m a year, to be found from savings of 5bn from taking money away from what they see as low priority areas.

Their education spokesman, Phil Willis, said schooling must be about quality for all, not choice for a few.

"Even the best teachers can't do their jobs well if class sizes are too big," he said.

"Only in small classes can every child get the individual attention they deserve to ensure no child is left behind.

"Under Labour children are being short-changed on their education. The Liberal Democrats would provide quality education for all."

'Equality of access'

But the conference amended its education resolution on the issue of "diversity" in secondary schooling.

Party leaders had proposed to maintain the Labour provision of academies, specialist and other schools, provided there was "equality of access".

An amendment was inserted to ensure diversity of provision in all schools - along with equality of access and funding.

Hampshire councillor John Wall said: "It is all too easy to suggest that academies and specialist schools are the answer to school education needs.

"They are not. They are the Labour government's answers. We should be brave enough to get back to basics and say we will provide high quality schooling in all areas.

"People do not really need choice if they are sure of quality where they live."

The party also repeated its promise to scrap all university tuition fees - making up the shortfall through higher taxes.




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The BBC's Vicki Young
"They believe they have the background for credible education policies"



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