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Labour backs up pledges to education

Opposition rebuts Tory claim that its policies would leave Pounds 30bn hole in the public purse. Biddy Passmore reports. The Conservatives last week claimed to identify 89 Labour policy "pledges" that would together involve an increase in public spending of Pounds 30 billion a year. One-quarter (22) of those come within the responsibility of the Department for Education and Employment and amount to Pounds 7.25bn.

Within hours, the Labour party had put out a detailed rebuttal of the Tories' document, calling it "a pack of lies". In its programme for government, New Labour, New Life for Britain, the party had set out every spending commitment, costed it and said where the money would come from.

Here are the 12 "pledges" on education, with Labour's denials and explanations.

* Sabbaticals for teachers Source of pledge: David Blunkett's speech at the NASUWT conference in April this year, which, according to the Tories, said: "We will offer teachers of long-standing a sabbatical period out of school at public expense to be able to research, retrain or experience other occupations ..."

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 1,300m a year (based on a third of a year for teachers with 10 years' service and a full year for those with 15 or more).

Labour says: Mr Blunkett actually said: "We will consider offering a sabbatical period I" Any costs would be funded from within existing resources, such as a budget for school improvements, lower early retirement costs and industry sponsorships.

* New student loans scheme Sources of pledge: in New Labour, New Life for Britain, July 1996, and Mr Blunkett's speech to Labour party conference 1996: "Instead of the Government's present loan scheme, parental contributions and low-level grants, we will offer every full-time higher education student a full maintenance award, to be paid back through a progressive system of contributions."

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 950m a year (Pounds 85m to extend loans to cover parental contribution, Pounds 865m to cover maintenance and fees of part-time HE students).

Labour says: totally inaccurate figures, ignoring plan to recoup spending on maintenance through repayment system linked to graduate's ability to pay. Most maintenance support could be supplied by private finance, thus generating resources without increasing burden on taxpayer.

* Double student numbers in higher education Sources: unquantified pledges to increase access in New Labour and Lifelong Learning documents and Mr Blunkett's latest party conference speech. Pledge to double numbers over 20 years dates back to briefing paper for Labour councillors in March 1993.

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 700m a year (based on increasing participation from 30 per cent to 60 per cent of young people over 20 years) Labour says: no specific increase promised but new system of funding students should be used to lift the Government's cap on access to higher education.

* Expand post-16 education Sources: Gordon Brown MP, Shadow Chancellor, said: "Our aim is to ensure that by 2000 every young person continues in education after 16" (interview, September 1996). But Mr Blunkett at 1996 party conference said staying on target was 80 per cent by 2,000.

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 680m a year (based on all 16- and 17-year-olds staying on in secondary schools - more if they stayed on in further education).

Labour says: plans would be funded through redirecting resources currently spent on Youth Training Scheme.

* Increase capital spending on schools Sources: New Labour and Mr Blunkett at the 1996 party conference, speaking of using "public private partnership with the banks" to tackle a Pounds 3.2bn backlog in repairs and maintenance.

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 320m (based on spreading Pounds 3.2bn over 10 years). Tories say Labour's proposed borrowing powers for schools very unlikely to enable money to count as private funding.

Labour says: no additional capital resources promised. Its plans would simply enable groups of schools to get together with private institutions to tackle repairs backlog.

* A nursery place for every three-year-old Sources: various, promising a place to all four-year-olds and setting targets to provide places for three-year-olds.

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 665m a year (based on cost of providing part-time place for all three-year-olds currently outside state system).

Labour says: pledge is to provide a place for all four-year-olds using nursery vouchers scheme funds.

* Access to laptop computers for all children Source: Tony Blair at Labour party conference 1995. He said Mr Blunkett would be opening discussions with LEAs and computer companies about "how we meet the goal of ensuring that every child has access to a laptop computer".

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 510m a year (based on one laptop per three pupils over eight).

Labour says: we are discussing ways of meeting a goal. Committee chaired by businessman Dennis Stevenson to report later this year.

* Cable up every school Sources: Tony Blair at party conference in 1995 and, in 1996: "No child will be without access to a computer and no school unable to use them properly I Our aim is for every school to have access to the superhighway, the computers to deliver it and the education programmes to go on it."

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 280m (based on Pounds 1,114m for equipment and Pounds 300m for two days' training per teacher spread over five years).

Labour says: proposal comes from government-appointed director-general of Oftel.

* Literacy guarantee at age seven Sources: briefing for Tony Blair's speech to party conference 1995, which said Labour opposed short-sighted cuts to Reading Recovery programme. Promise to ensure all schools offer "Reading Recovery or comparable programmes" dates back to Opening Doors to a Learning Society in 1994.

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 250m (based on extrapolating cost of Reading Recovery programme - i.e. supply cover for one part-time teacher in each school).

Labour says: Labour's Literacy Task Force will report spring 1997, proposing range of strategies.

* Reduce class sizes for five- to seven-year-olds Sources: one of five "early pledges" in New Labour, New Life for Britain ("cut class sizes to 30 or under for five-, six- and seven-year-olds by using money saved from the Assisted Places Scheme"), repeated at 1996 party conference by Blair, Blunkett and Brown.

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 210m a year (based on cost of extra teachers). Conservatives say abolishing Assisted Places Scheme could only raise Pounds 60m.

Labour says: Tory cost estimate based on bogus assumption that phasing out APS means providing extra 77,000 places for pupils in state system, whereas only an extra 6,000 will be needed which may not need additional funding.

* Provide better teacher training Sources: New Labour, which promised "better basic teaching", and 1993 briefing paper for Labour councillors, which promised "better training for teachers".

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 70m a year (based on one day's extra training and supply cover for each teacher).

Labour says: all improvements to be covered by existing resources.

* Establish intensive literacy summer schools Sources: Blair and Blunkett at 1996 party conference. Mr Blunkett said: "We are proposing that anyone, a year or more behind at the age of 10 or 11, will attend a three-week summer school before transferring into secondary education".

Tory estimate of cost: Pounds 40m (based on 15,000 supply teachers running two three-hour groups each day for three weeks, plus overheads).

Labour says: funding would come from the Pounds 264m Grants for Education Support and Training programme.

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