Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Monday, 4 January 2010

Balls and Gove face public debate

Ed Balls
Ed Balls wants a question and answer session with his opponent

Children's Secretary Ed Balls is to hold a public debate on education in England with his political opponents.

Mr Balls is writing to Tory Michael Gove and Liberal Democrat David Laws to propose dates for a question and answer session with parents and pupils.

Focusing on the Conservatives, he said in a Guardian article that their policies favoured the few not the many.

But the Tories said Mr Balls has ignored their plan to give extra money to schools with more deprived pupils.

Under their "pupil premium" policy, schools funding follows the child and goes directly to the school.

Up for it

Currently schools receive extra grants linked to the deprivation levels within whole council areas, but this cash is given to local authorities to allocate.

Mr Balls also accused the Tories of saying "no" to the government's plan to raise the school leaving age to 18 and guaranteeing one-to-one tuition to children falling behind.

However, a Conservative spokesman said the party had not opposed the Bill to raise the education participation age to 18 and that there had been no announcement that the plans would be scrapped.

The Conservatives also supported the idea of catch-up help for pupils but had questioned the way in which the scheme was to be delivered, he said.

A spokesman said: "We are up for debating education, to help people make up their minds ahead of the election, so we look forward to receiving the invites."

The news comes as the government said it would be expanding its programme of one-to-one tuition to younger primary school children.

'Re-spun policy'

The Key Stage 1 guarantee, which comes into effect in September 2011, means that where a six to seven-year-old child is falling behind, the school will offer catch-up help from specially trained tutors.

The parents would also be informed of what they can do to assist their child's progress.

Lib Dem Children's spokesman Mr Laws said: "This is yet another re-spun and re-heated announcement first made over six months ago.

"Labour has had 13 years to fix the schools system and it has failed. If they haven't put the right policies in place by now, they won't succeed just a few months before Election Day."

He added that he would also be happy to take part in a debate on education.

Party leaders, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have already agreed to televised debates as part of the election campaign.



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