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You're still my top priority, says PM

Michael Shaw on Blair's efforts to highlight Labour's schools achievements and, below, Jon Slater looks back on the careers of the party's recent education secretaries

Tony Blair promised that education remained his number one priority this week as the parties continued to battle over schools.

The Prime Minister, speaking at the Rivington and Blackrod high school, Bolton, pledged that he would "stay focused on education, education, education - yesterday, today and tomorrow".

The school was the third in two days to receive a visit from Mr Blair who dropped in on Bishop's Park college in Clacton on Sea to help with a French lesson and visited Lilian Baylis school in south London to open its new buildings.

Mr Blair said he wanted to highlight successes at the London school because it had been rejected by Oliver Letwin, the shadow chancellor, who said in 2003 that he would "rather beg in the streets" than send his children there.

However, the Prime Minister admitted that he would have found it difficult to send his children to the school in 2002, when only 6 per cent of pupils gained five Cs or better at GCSE.

Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, had a narrow escape at a debate in her Bolton constituency, wrestling herself free from protestors who attempted to handcuff her and pelt her with eggs.

She announced that Labour would give schools an extra pound;430 million over two years to become "extended", on top of pound;250m already allocated for the scheme.

Ministers have pledged that by 2010 all pupils will have access to activities before school and up to 6pm afterwards, such as homework clubs, drama and music.

Ms Kelly said that most activities would be run by outside organisations rather than teachers and that schools could cluster together to organise them. "There should be no more need for latch-key children," she said.

The Prime Minister and Ms Kelly attacked the Conservatives' plan to state-fund places at cheap independent schools saying it would take pound;2 billion away from state schools. But the estimate was called an outright lie by the Tories, who insisted the scheme would cost around pound;150 million.

The Conservatives were due to return to the issue of school displine yesterday, capitalising on the controversy surrounding Classroom Chaos, a TV documentary on Five that filmed unruly behaviour in the classroom with hidden cameras.

The party plans to set up a network of "turnaround schools" where up to 24,000 misbehaving pupils would be sent.

Tim Collins, shadow education secretary, said: "By giving headteachers full control over school discipline we will end the climate of fear that often scares children away from their classrooms."

The Liberal Democrats focused on their plans for secondary schools, which include spending pound;230m extra on training to guarantee that, by 2008, all pupils would be taught by teachers with the proper level of subject knowledge by 2008.

Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat leader, said it was a disgrace that 44,000 secondary teachers were teaching subjects which they had not studied beyond school.

"Students deserve better than being taught by a teacher who is just one page ahead in the text-book," he said.

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