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A Labour government will cap infant class sizes in state schools in England at 30, Ed Miliband is to announce.
The Labour leader will claim the coalition’s free schools policy has contributed to a trebling in the number of 30-plus classes since 2010.
Labour is promising more school places in growing areas, while curbing free schools where they are “not needed”.
The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are pledging to protect school budgets in real terms as well as early years support.
Nick Clegg will say education is one of the party’s five priorities that will be at the heart of its general election manifesto.
On a busy day of pre-election campaigning, David Cameron will focus on the economy while UKIP leader Nigel Farage will make his first major speech of the year spelling out why people should vote for his party on 7 May.
During a visit to a school in London, Mr Miliband will say that if Labour forms the next government, it will strictly enforce a cap on class sizes for five, six and seven year olds first introduced by the last Labour government.
The limit will apply for a period of “more than 12 months”, he will say.
Mr Miliband will claim that 60,000 more infants are now taught in classes of more than 30 than was the case in 2010 and if current trends are maintained, the number of classes in excess of 30 is set to reach 11,000.
Although state schools are still routinely expected not to place more than 30 infants in the same class, the rules have been relaxed in recent years.
A change to regulations in 2012 gave head teachers more freedom to maintain 30-plus lessons for a number of years without having to employ more teachers.
Mr Miliband will suggest the government’s support for free schools – state-funded schools outside local authority control – has made the situation worse, due to the number of new schools opening in areas where there were already a surplus of places.
Labour says it will curb new free schools in areas where there is already adequate provision while ensuring over-subscribed schools can expand their intake.
The Lib Dems and Conservative were at loggerheads last year over claims that 30,000 local authority places were being lost as money was diverted to new free schools.
The government has said £5bn has been spent on new school places since 2010 but a sharp jump in the birth rate and a continued increase in net migration has meant an estimated 900,000 new places will be needed over the next decade.
Setting out a “better plan for education”, Mr Miliband will commit Labour to driving up standards in every part of the country, saying the party will look beyond the most deprived areas to challenge 1.6 million under-performing schools wherever they are.
Every school will be “locally accountable” to a new director of standards, an idea first proposed by former education secretary David Blunkett last year, while all head teachers will be given the freedoms currently available to those running academies.
Labour will look to attract many of the 200,000 qualified teachers who have left the profession in recent years back into schools while also bringing in compulsory work experience for all young people between 14 and 16 and guarantee all children in state schools two hours of organised sport a week.
At an event to highlight his parties’ manifesto priorities, Mr Clegg will say that the progress made in schools standards since 2010 “cannot be taken for granted”.
If they remain in power after the next election, the Lib Dems will protect spending from “nursery to college”, guaranteeing a real-terms increase in spending per pupil.
“The Liberal Democrats will prioritise education, just as we have done over the last five years because nothing is more central to what we believed.
“Nothing is more important to creating a fairer society where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.”
The four other priorities, which will feature on the front page of its manifesto when it is published in April, are balancing the books “fairly”, raising the tax-free personal allowance to £12,000, investing £8bn in the NHS and protecting the environment.
David Cameron has promised a future Conservative government would protect England’s schools budget in cash terms and allocate a further £7bn for school places although per pupil funding would not keep pace with inflation.
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