MSPs face grilling in our public debate
The five main parties set out their stalls ahead of TESS event
The education battleground for the Scottish elections will be unveiled next week when TESS hosts the first major political hustings event of the year.
The education spokespeople of Scotland's five main political parties will outline their priorities for the future of education - and face interrogation from the public in a Question Time-style debate.
In a signal of the SNP's willingness to remove some of the discretionary powers currently enjoyed by councils, Education Secretary Michael Russell said his party would introduce changes to legislation on pre-school provision if it formed the next government.
"On the vital early years agenda, we will place provision on a new statutory footing - including nursery provision - ensuring that services are no longer at the discretion of local councils but are enshrined in law," he said.
The SNP would complete the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, press on with support for teachers to be better trained, and deliver free higher education.
But Des McNulty, Labour's education spokesman, claimed that for the first time in a decade, parents were worrying about fewer teachers in schools, less specialist support for their children, and continuing cuts to educational budgets.
Labour would put 1,000 extra teachers into schools through its literacy and numeracy initiative, re-start the school building programme and address concerns over indiscipline and bullying, he said.
Labour would also support partnership working between schools and colleges, "ensuring that our further education colleges are no longer the Cinderellas of the education system", Mr McNulty said.
Liz Smith, the Conservatives' education spokeswoman, would focus on improving pupil performance and giving additional support to teachers.
"In a climate of fiscal restraint we need to be a lot more efficient and smarter about how we drive up educational standards. Or put more bluntly, we need to achieve more bang for our bucks," she said.
Margaret Smith, the Scottish Liberal Democrats' education spokeswoman, said her party's policy was based on three key themes: restoring excellence by driving up standards; giving headteachers more responsibility and power to deliver; and helping children from poorer backgrounds to get on.
The LibDems were committed to ensuring the success of CfE and the new National Qualifications, she said.
The Scottish Green Party would support CfE, but also wanted to provide more resources for teaching the arts and outdoor education, said Robin Harper.
This would increase opportunities "for the full development of all possibilities for young people beyond the traditional three Rs", he said.
The debate will be held at the National Gallery of Scotland on 3 March.
Your chance to ask the difficult questions
The education spokespeople of the five main parties will speak at the TESS hustings at the National Gallery of Scotland. The event is currently full, but go to www.tes.co.ukelection2011 for a place on the waiting list.
Robin Harper - MSP Scottish Green Party
Des McNulty - MSP Scottish Labour Party
Michael Russell - MSP Scottish
Elizabeth Smith - MSP Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
Margaret Smith - MSP Scottish Liberal Democrats.