Balls: We are the party of education

Labour figures today attacked the Conservative’s education policy, accusing David Cameron of pushing for excellence for the elite.

And as the Labour party increasingly attempts to unnerve the Conservatives with bravado surrounding an early election, Ed Balls vowed to expose Tory division and confusion in every constituency, every day until the next election.

Addressing the Labour party conference, the education secretary said the government was committed to raising funding for state school pupils so it matches current private schools spending.

The best education should be available for everyone and not just those that can afford to pay, he told delegates.

Mr Balls said: “We cannot rest until we have an education system that is world class not just for some but for all. And that means narrowing the gap and tackling the continuing inequality in our education system.

“And that is why our party is committed to more investment in education.”

Mr Balls said the Tories were calling for a return to a “back-to-asics” tax policy, that would penalise and stigmatise children whose parents are separated or bereaved.

He said: “When David Cameron says ‘let’s stop pretending all the children are the same’ we know what he really means.

“David Cameron’s back-to-basics is back-to-privilege. Back to the past. And more recently back and forth depending on the pressures of the day. World class education not for all, but for the privileged elite – that is Cameron Conservatism.”

The education secretary said his former shadow David Willetts had been the only Tory to understand the problems of academic selection and had been sacked for it.

Mr Balls attacked the Conservative policy of “grammar streaming” in every school, dismissing it as a crude policy that would be as socially divisive as the 11-plus.

He admitted, despite progress, Labour was still failing too many young people and said it was time the government raised its sights.

But he maintained Labour was the party of education. Throughout its history it had campaigned to give all children the right to free education and would continue to do so with legislation to raise the education leaving age to 18.

Speaking during a question and answer session later, Mr Brown said the government had to be prepared to intensively invest in the minority of children who are falling behind, including through one-to-one tuition.

It would be expensive, he said, but “if you can do it in private for some, we should insist it is available to all.”

Mr Brown said the government could no longer concentrate solely on improving standards, but by enforcing the message that ‘failure is not good enough’.

Failing schools will be taken over by successful schools, he said, with ten schools already ready to merge.