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Liberal Democrats set out radical plans for schools

April 23, 2010 12:00 AM

The Liberal Democrats have set out radical plans to invest extra money in schools to give every child a fair chance.

Nick Clegg has outlined plans to invest an extra £2.5bn in schools through a Pupil Premium that will raise funding for the poorest pupils to private school levels.

The money will be targeted at schools taking on children who need more help, but will benefit every child in every school. The cash can be used to cut class sizes and provide one-to-one tuition or catch-up classes, ensuring every child gets the individual attention they need.

An average primary school could cut class sizes to 20. An average secondary school could see classes of just 16.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said:

"In 1997, when New Labour was first elected, no one would have believed it would end like this.

"Labour's bright promise of a fair society has faded away.

"Our big task now is giving people back their hope that things can be different, and better, and that the fair society we have hoped for so long can become a reality.

"If you want to build that fair society I believe education is everything. That is why the biggest financial commitment in our manifesto is to our schools.

"With the deficit as it is, everyone knows money is tight, but this is a question of priorities.

"We have identified in our manifesto £15bn of savings, of which we will redirect just £5bn to alternate spending. It is a measure of my personal commitment and passion for education that half of that money will go into our schools.

"Our plans will raise the money spent on the million children from the poorest backgrounds to private school levels.

"Headteachers will be able to use that money on a whole range of measures to help all pupils and all schools.

"Cutting class sizes, providing more one-to-one tuition and catch-up classes: whatever suits their school and their pupils' needs best. With a simple, but profound ambition: to make sure every child gets the fair start in life they deserve."

To give every child a fair start, we will spend an extra £2.5bn a year on schools. The money will be targeted at schools taking on children who need more help, but will benefit every child in every school. The cash can be used to cut class sizes, provide one-to-one tuition, catch-up classes or in anyway the school wishes, ensuring every child gets the individual attention they need. An average primary school could cut class sizes to 20. An average secondary school could see classes of just 16.

Performance at school is closely linked to children's background. The poorest children are only half as likely to get 5 good GCSEs as other children. Too often, the poorest children start school already struggling and fall further behind as they grow older.

Schools taking disadvantaged children aren't getting the money they need to cut class sizes and provide them with extra support. The existing methods for distributing deprivation related funding are confusing and inconsistent. Nearly one in three secondary school pupils eligible for free school meals attends a relatively affluent secondary school.

Area based targeting therefore misses a large proportion of the poorest pupils - including in many rural areas. There is a huge gap between poor children in different parts of the country: in Kensington and Chelsea, 59% of poor children get 5 good GCSEs, while in Rutland, it's 14%.

The Pupil Premium would be available to the school which each disadvantaged pupil attended. It would be attached to the million children with the highest levels of disadvantage. The Pupil Premium would be set nationally and it would top up a national per pupil base funding figure. It will raise the poorest children's school funding to private school levels, with the average school receiving around £2500 extra for every child entitled to free school meals on their roll. Head teachers would be free to spend the money as they see fit, to raise standards in their school.

This policy costs £2.5bn a year, and will be introduced in the second year of the Parliament after our jobs stimulus package, paid for from savings in government such as our proposed reforms to tax credits (which will save up to £1.5bn) and administrative savings in the Department for Education and quangos (which saves up to an additional £1bn).