Grant-maintained schools would retain grant maintained-style autonomy, but under a "light touch" strategic framework drawn up by local education authorities, Mr Ashdown said. The authorities' primary role would be to ensure equality of access to quality education for all.
Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats plan to phase out the assisted places scheme, but unlike Labour, not completely. They are consulting on proposals that could help state-educated children through a new private-public partnership.
Mr Ashdown said that could include local education authorities buying "units" of education in the private sector, and agreements to share facilities. "In this way, that huge education resource of very high quality would be used to the benefit of a much wider group of the nation's children."
Don Foster, the party's education spokesman, cited Sandbach Grammar School in Cheshire, where all the places had been been bought up by the local education authority.
A major difference in attitude to selection on academic ability is that while under Labour parents would have the right to ballot on their school's admissions policy, under the Liberal Democrats the local education authority would take the decision.
In a speech to the Institute of Education yesterday, Mr Ashdown outlined a six-pronged programme to raise standards. There should be maximum autonomy for all schools and incentives for more community use of school facilities, he said.
There should also be:
t more parental involvement, with parent-teacher contracts;
t a General Teaching Council to set and safeguard standards;
t post-14 reform to end vocational/academic split;
t improved school inspections and follow-up support;
t a computer-led technological revolution.