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Tories criticise Clegg on education

Nick Clegg was "right" to disown a key plank of the Coalition's education policy, a Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister insisted as Tories criticised the move as illiberal and peculiar.

The Deputy Prime Minister opened Coalition dividing lines by publicly insisting that all teachers, including those at free schools, should be qualified, and the National Curriculum should be taught in every school.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the Lib Dem leader must be free to set out party policy in the run-up to the next general election.

But Conservative Graham Stuart, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said the move was "peculiar" and had opened up Lib Dem splits.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Mr Clegg talks about a balance. My understanding is that a typical Liberal view would be believing that you trust the front line to decide how and who should teach but you hold them strongly to account through exam results and Ofsted.

"So it's a strangely illiberal policy announcement that Nick Clegg has made and it comes immediately after the Al-Madinah school has caught the headlines whereas the evidence appears to be that most free schools are doing an excellent job. Indeed the Lib Dem Schools Minister said last week what an excellent job they were doing."

Last week Lib Dem Schools Minister David Laws told MPs that "there are plenty of teachers who may not have formal qualifications but who still do a superb job" and former minister Jeremy Browne said he believed " free schools are a 'small l' liberal policy".

Mr Stuart added : "I thought they believed in localism and, yet, here we are at the first sign of trouble and Nick Clegg comes over all Barbara Castle. It's a very peculiar approach and it's already leading to splits in the Lib Dems.

"Jeremy Browne, senior MP, has come out and criticised the policy. It leaves David Laws in a difficult position."

Mr Clegg insisted his criticism of "ideological" measures championed by Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove was not a Government "crisis" or political positioning, but a "perfectly sincere difference of opinion".

Mr Davey told Today: "I think people will be surprised that we are embarking on a programme that could mean lots of unqualified teachers are teaching our children.

"What Nick is showing is what our policy will be at the next election.

"Everybody knows in a coalition Government you can't have your whole way. We haven't got a Liberal Democrat government here, regrettably, we have got a coalition Government."

Asked about the comments made by Mr Laws last week, he said: "He is defending the Government's position as a coalition Government, as he should do, and I understand that.

"I'm afraid sometimes in the media people don't understand that, when you are a government ministe,r you defend the Government line agreed through collective responsibility in a proper way in a coalition Government but a party leader preparing for the next election and our manifesto, talking about party policies that have gone through a democratic vote at the Liberal Democrat conference, he's got to put those policies forward and I think he is right to do so."

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman told a daily Westminster media briefing: "The Government has a clear policy on free schools and there is no change to it.

"The Government as a whole has a policy on free schools and the Secretary of State for Education leads on that policy."

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