Here is a summary of where the three main parties stand on key education policies, from tuition fees to childcare...

Education will be the key driver of Labour's General Election campaign and its third term in office if reelected, Gordon Brown has pledged.

The Chancellor said education was vital to Britain's continuing economic success and overall spending on it would rise - if Labour remained in power.

He was speaking as the political parties made their final preparations for the campaign amid expectations that Tony Blair will announce the date of the election in the next few days.

"Education, which is the driver of economic success and which is the foundation of opportunity for all, will be and will continue to be the number-one priority both of this Government and of our manifesto when it is published," Mr Brown said.

Equipping people with all the necessary skills was the best way of ensuring Britain could to meet the competitive challenges of the future, he went onto claim.

"We are looking forward to what this country has got to do.

"It's the next stage from creating stability and investing in our infrastructure - which have been the themes of the first two parliaments."

Asked if education would be a key spending priority as health was previously, he replied: "Any nation that is going to be successful in the future will have to invest more in education."

"The plans that I have already set out, the plans that have been set out in detail - including new money in the Budget - will mean education spending per pupil will rise, education spending overall will rise and that will continue throughout the parliament - if we are successful in winning the election."


An issue close to the Chancellor's heart, childcare sparked the first major education policy clash of the pre-election phoney war.

Labour have promised another 3,500 childcare centres by 2010 and " wraparound" childcare services with schools staying open longer.

Gordon Brown has promised to increase child tax credits and paid maternity leave would grow to one year.

The Tories would help grandparents become child minders.

They have pledged to boost maternity pay and give new mothers the option of nine months off work or concentrate maternity pay over six months.

The Lib Dems are also offering "wraparound" childcare in schools, extended maternity leave and a " minimum income guarantee" of £170 a week for new mothers.


Both Labour and the Conservatives have sought to portray themselves as the toughest parties on school discipline, which teachers and school inspectors say is getting worse.

Labour has promised "zero tolerance" of all bad behaviour, tighter knife laws and powers for heads to search pupils or call snap police checks.

The Tories would abolish the appeals panels that can reinstate pupils who have been expelled, promising heads "the final say" over exclusions.

The Liberal Democrats will cut class sizes to help overall behaviour, and carefully transfer the most difficult pupils to new schools or special units.


Jamie Oliver has again proved the power of TV to shape political priorities. The chef put school meals at the heart of political debate, and met Tony Blair and Michael Howard.

Labour has promised more money for school food and new rules to cut levels of salt, sugar and fat. The Tories would ban junk food from schools and remove vending machines unless they stock healthy options. The Lib Dems would restrict junk food advertising during children's TV.


Ruth Kelly's most controversial decision since becoming Education Secretary was to ditch the Tomlinson plans for a new diploma to replace A-Levels and GCSEs.

Instead she wants a renewed drive to improve the basics of English and maths at GCSE and new, mainly vocational diplomas.

The Lib Dems are keener on the original Tomlinson plans and would replace A-Levels and GCSEs with diplomas embracing academic and vocational courses.

The Tories would have a quota for the number of ALevel A-grades to combat "dumbing down" and would let schools offer O-Levels or the International Baccalaureate.


No issue brought Tony Blair closer to Commons defeat than "top-up" university tuition fees. Almost every university plans to charge students the maximum £3,000 a year from 2006 under Labour's reforms.

Labour insists top-up fees are the only way to put universities on a secure financial footing.

Ministers say students will be better off, too, as they won't have to pay anything until after they graduate. The Lib Dems have campaigned against fees for years. They abolished fees in Scotland and would do the same in England.

The Tories would also scrap fees but keep grants for the poorest students.