Chris Huhne has called for spending on children in state schools to be raised to the same level as on those in public schools as he went head-to-head on television with Nick Clegg, his rival for the Liberal Democrat leadership.
Both politicians attended Westminster School, where day fees are £5,592 a term. Speaking before the televised debate on the BBC's Question Time programme, Mr Huhne said he wanted the privileges he enjoyed in the private sector to be extended to all state pupils.
He called for the spending per state school pupil to be raised by £3,705 a year to £8,655 – the average spent on every privately-educated child. He said this could be achieved over 10 years to spread the cost, which would run into billions of pounds.
"Gordon Brown has said it is a long-term aspiration but unless we make it a clear objective, it will never happen," Mr Huhne said. "The key thing is to get extra teachers in place to increase personal attention to pupils and to reduce class sizes. We are talking about a pretty dramatic increase in the number of teachers.
"It would mean there are no second-class children in the country."
Mr Huhne said he felt privileged to have gone to Westminster School. "It gave me a commitment to fairness in our society. I came through with that feeling and got involved in a charity. I used to visit a pensioner on the Peabody Estate not far from the school. It taught me about the differences in life chances and living standards. It is something that has stayed with me to this day."
Raising spending on state schools, he added, could help to halt the growing exodus of pupils to public schools, particularly in South-east England. "There is a continuing rise in the number of children going through the private sector," he said. "This policy would help to ensure the polarisation of schooling does not get any worse."
He said the increased spending should be coupled with other measures, including assessment at eight to improve literacy. Improving education would also help to increase social mobility, he added.Reuse content