What the manifestos promise
Labour aims to "raise the proportion of national income spent on education". The only specific pledges are smaller classes in primary 1-primary 3 funded by phasing out the assisted places scheme, modernised school buildings via public-private sector partnerships, and a windfall levy on privatised utilities to fund training.
The SNP will spend Pounds 1 billion over four years on nursery places, child care, 700 extra teachers, additional capital expenditure, a national apprenticeship scheme, adult training, and the restoration of student benefits and grants to 1990 levels.
The Tories point to their record which they say has seen spending on schools rise from less than Pounds 1 billion in 1979 to Pounds 2.5 billion in 1996-97.
Three of the parties are committed to a strengthened role for the General Teaching Council in monitoring classroom standards. The SNP is silent. The Liberal Democrats and Labour say "pressure and support" should be deployed to improve teaching and accept that unsuitable teachers should be eased out. The Liberal Democrats back the Tory proposal for an independent pay body.
Labour wants managerial training and qualifications for headteachers, while it and the Tories promise that classroom assistants would relieve teachers of non-teaching burdens.
The Liberal Democrats support the Tory move, which is not spelt out in the manifesto, to strengthen HMIs' powers over inspections and the monitoring of education authority performance. All parties except the SNP have plans to publish what the Liberal Democrats call "meaningful information" on schools. Labour would aim for consistent value-added measures of performance, while the Tories plan to publish test results of seven-year-olds and 14-year-olds.
The Tories say failing schools will be targeted by the Inspectorate. Labour wants reserve ministerial powers to close schools judged to be beyond rescue although it would also try to recruit top staff for underachieving schools. Labour would set up a standards unit in the Scottish Office.
Labour's "personal learning plan" or compact for every child is matched by the Tories' "education standards guarantee" for all parents which would set and raise targets for each school. The Tories intend to reward excellent schools with a "quality mark" scheme that would carry cash prizes.
The Liberal Democrats say they will build on the 5-14 curriculum but abolish tests in the first two years of secondary school, allow "enough time" to implement Higher Still and promise not to introduce further major reforms "without adequate resources and full consultation with staff".
All the parties intend to retain or strengthen the voice of parents as "partners", with Labour and the Tories agreeing on the importance not only of providing more information on pupils' progress but also of making parents accountable for children's discipline and attendance. The Liberal Democrats will "help parents help their child" and extend home-school links.
Although Labour has promised to revamp school boards, this is not in the manifesto. The Liberal Democrats "will clarify and constructively develop" the role of boards.
* ASSISTED PLACES
Labour and the Liberal Democrats want the scheme phased out, the Tories intend expanding it to incorporate a "Scottish scholarship scheme" for underprivileged children with special talents, and the SNP makes no specific pledge. The Liberal Democrats support public funding for pupils to attend independent schools but only in a "new partnership" with the state sector. The party would extend the charitable status of independent schools to all schools.
This has emerged as a firm favourite. The SNP wants access to the Internet guaranteed for all schools and computers in every classroom, the Tories and Liberal Democrats will enlist industry to connect all schools.
Labour plans a "national grid for learning" via the Internet. It will use lottery money to keep teachers up to date on information technology. The party is also considering whether educational software should be subject to a quality grading system.
The Liberal Democrats emphasise the importance of new technologies to boost post-school opportunities.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats intend to establish an "individual learning account" for lifelong education into which the state, the individual and employers would pay a contribution. The Tories have already announced "new opportunities" for lifetime learning, while Labour will rely on its planned University for Industry to promote adult learning along with the Open University.
Labour announced a "new strategic framework" for FE to end "needless competition" between colleges, while the Liberal Democrats prefer a new quality council to monitor post-16 courses.
The SNP emphasises higher education and will replace student loans with a return to index-linked maintenance grants, whereas Labour has opted for a graduate tax with longer payback periods than loans. The Liberal Democrats are behind the four-year degree. Labour stresses that higher education expansion cannot be funded out of general taxation.
The Tories have stuck by earlier pledges to expand modern apprentices, introduce skills vouchers and set "challenging targets" for careers services. The SNP promises a grant to subsidise employers taking on new staff. The Liberal Democrats would introduce a 2 per cent training levy on the payrolls of medium and large companies which could be set against tax for employers who provide accredited training or contribute to an individual learning account. The party also wants 16 to 19-year-olds to have at least two days' education or on-the-job training each week.
Labour has similar plans to encourage employers to take 25,000 people aged under 25 off the dole and into work or training, with day-release education or training leading to a qualification. The youth training scheme would be ditched and all young people will be offered either full-time or part-time education after the age of 16 to improve on the one-third who achieved SVQs in 1994-95.
Other manifestos, page 6.