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Parting shot rouses Paddy's old army;Autumn conferences

WITH Paddy Ashdown's parting speech ringing in their ears Liberal Democrat delegates surged from the party conference hall in Harrogate mulling over the exhortation of their former leader not to fall into the trap of leftist oppositional politics, writes Elaine Williams.

However, a random poll of party members showed the Lib Dems deeply sceptical of Labour's record on education. Little feeling of mutualism here.

James Mumford, a councillor and school governor from Twickenham and Richmond, was particularly critical of Labour's attempts to reduce class sizes. He said:

"Although some have been reduced, others have been increased. They haven't put enough money into it.

"An extra penny on income tax and no tax cuts for the rich would have to remain Lib Dem policy. We should also consult more with teachers. I think this would be popular with voters. They entrust their children to teachers and want them to be properly valued."

Sue Proctor, a Cheshire county councillor, supported the party's commitment to raising pound;2 billion a year for education. "I would also lessen the burden of assessment on pupils and teachers. We have a saying in my family: 'You don't fatten a pig by weighing it every week. You have to feed it'."

Jane Mactaggart, a Swindon councillor and sister of the Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart, is also governor of a primary school. "I don't like the emphasis on too much formality in the early years. Nor do I think you can say that 80 per cent of children must achieve the average. The targets set are not realistic for some year groups of children in my school."

Patrick Short, a newly-retired teacher and an education adviser to the party, said: "We would ensure there were funds to reduce class sizes in all primaries. We would make the early-years curriculum a priority by investing heavily and eradicating the more formal elements now being introduced.

"We would also introduce a minimal national curriculum to increase teacher autonomy."

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