Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has pledged to ring-fence spending on education should the party play a part in the next government.
Mr Clegg said that he will go further than both Labour and the Conservatives and guarantee that the spending will continue at current levels even after the comprehensive spending review period.
Both the Conservative leader David Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown have refused to say if they would protect spending on education, as they prepare to make swinging cuts to the public sector in an attempt to reduce the country's budget deficit.
Mr Clegg said: "We won't cut. Absolutely nothing could be more important. We've got this ballooning structural deficit, which means we will not be able to pay for things in the way we did before. That is a fact and we need to learn to abandon some policies and funding pledges we've made in the past. That will be painful for us and painful for all of the parties.
"But one of the things that I'm absolutely adamant about is that it would be madness to cut support for schools in order to deal with the poisonous legacy of this recession."
In an interview with The TES ahead of next week's conference, the Lib Dem leader said New Labour had failed to deliver on the promises set out by former prime minister Tony Blair in his "education, education, education" speech.
"All the international comparisons show that (the education system) is as bad if not worse than it was before (Labour came to power)," he said. "There is also this kind of manic over-centralisation of education policy where teachers have been left reeling with one education bill after the next. There is a profound instability, not only in the classroom but also in the staff room."
Mr Clegg also attacked the Conservatives for making promises on school reform without demonstrating how they plan to pay for it.
"The Tories, of course, are utterly phoney in all of this," he said. "They talk the talk on schools policy - Michael Gove (shadow education secretary) talks about providing more funding to children from deprived backgrounds - without a scintilla of thought about how he would pay for it. We've been very clear, very upfront, saying we would have to cut things."
The Liberal Democrats said they intend to place the fate of the country's young people at "centre stage" when it comes to fighting the next election.
"If the general election debate is not all about the future and the life chances of young people, then what on earth should it be about?" he added.