There is nothing to indicate a Labour government's education policies would differ substantially from those of the Tories, Janet Law, the party's spokesperson on education, told a fringe meeting organised by the Educational Institute of Scotland.
Mrs Law, a former active EIS member, called for a stiff defence of Scottish education and warned that conflict would be hard to avoid in the forthcoming battles over council spending.
"If we want to have an education system, not just a lot of competing schools, we have to protect the whole system," she said.
Ian McCalman, the institute's vice-president, warned that in Glasgow, where he teaches, a further 6 per cent budget cut could cost 400-500 teaching jobs. Eight staff in every secondary would have to go and two in every primary, according to the city council's predictions.
"It is curious how in education you can get more quality and higher standards by taking money out of the system," Mr McCalman said.