Labour this week sought to capitalise on Government unease over school budgets, claiming 10,000 teaching jobs would disappear unless the current award for teachers was funded in full.
In a Commons debate on the impact of education cuts, David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, urged Tory MPs to vote with Labour to force the Government into a U-turn.
But Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, rejected calls for extra funding, saying the award was "tough but manageable".
Mr Blunkett urged Tory MPs to come clean about whether they wanted to raise standards and increase opportunity for all children, or to "save their own skins by attempting to salt away cash for tax bribes in the run-up to the next general election".
Mrs Shephard, he said, risked becoming an Edward Scissorhands figure who was prepared to make cuts rather than take steps to improve standards. And he challenged Tory claims that spending on education had increased by 50 per cent in real terms since 1979.
Mrs Shephard admitted to the House that it was going to be "a tough year" for schools but added: "The settlement this year allows all authorities to manage if they choose their priorities carefully."
She indicated a group of several hundred teachers and governors from Derbyshire who were lobbying Parliament during the debate. Derbyshire's plight could not be so difficult if supply teachers were brought in to cover for those protesting. She challenged Labour's accusation on funding: "Labour is interested only in seeing taxpayers' money spent but with no interest in what it buys."