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Promise to pay private fees

Misbehaving pupils were high on the Conservatives' hit-list this week as they launched their manifesto.

The slim document opened its chapter on education with the handwritten slogan: "What's wrong with a little discipline in schools?"

However, it was the party's controversial plan to fund children at certain independent schools that attracted the greatest criticism.

The Conservatives are planning to fund places at private schools from 2007 if the fees for all of their pupils are no greater than the cost of state education.

Labour has claimed that the policy would take up to pound;2 billion out of state schools.

The Conservatives have dismissed the figure, saying they predict a maximum of 33,000 places would become available, costing pound;176m a year.

However, private schools believe that the Tory estimate may exaggerate the policy's popularity - as most schools' fees are not low enough.

The Independent Schools Council said only around 20 small independent schools in England charge pound;5,500-a-year or less and even fewer would by 2007. If 20 average-sized independent schools were to become fully state-funded, the cost per year would be just over pound;30m.

Other Conservative education proposals which have also previously been announced include scrapping exclusion appeals panels and university top-up fees, allowing schools to set admissions any way they prefer and ridding the curriculum of "political correctness".

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