Election '97: Vote from the classroom goes to the party offering hard cash

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Jamie Gardner, 18, is taking A-levels this summer in English, geography and history at Oakbank Grant Maintained School in Keighley, West Yorkshire, and a first-time voter.

As a student at a grant-maintained school, I see education as an important election issue since GM status, created by the Conservatives, is a contentious policy area. The benefits to our school as a result of obtaining GM status are many, thanks to funding we would not previously have had. The school environment has improved as we have been able to employ outdoor staff, new classrooms and a common room have been built and there are more teachers, better catering and more money spent on books.

The voter has to be a pragmatist and assess which party is going to give them what they want, so comparing the three parties' policies concerning GM schools is a very influential factor in the location of my cross. The Conservatives would appear to be offering what the Liberal Democrats and Labour are not - a continuation of GM schools.

The dilemma here is that I can see no way in which the Conservatives will be able centrally to fund any more GM schools as they bow at the altar of unchanged income tax. I am also opposed to the performance tables as they encourage an unfair system where certain schools are overcrowded while others are under-populated.

Labour are opposed to GM schools (despite all the hullabaloo that this created) yet their plans for foundation schools are not to my mind radically different from the grant-maintained ethos anyway ... Labour is hoping to increase spending without increasing taxes. Their idea of abolishing the assisted-places scheme to raise money seems unfair on students of grammar- school calibre who simply could not afford to go to a selective private school. The Liberal Democrats are the only ones to make a concrete spending promise (the policy which most appeals to me), but sadly they are also vehemently opposed to GM schools.

At this stage, the Lib-Dems' promises of increased public spending from a definite source will, I think, sway me towards them.

Mhairi McDonald, 17, is studying for A-levels in psychology, media studies and photography at Derby Tertiary College, Wilmorton.

I think Labour and the Liberal Democrats are right to emphasise the importance of keeping class sizes small, but I am undecided over which party's ideas for funding it are better. The Lib-Dems' promise of more tax to cut primary class sizes, provide more books and repairing schools is appealing - every parent wants their child in a safe environment with good resources.

In principle, I support the idea of more tax - a penny in the pound sounds very little and I think people are more understanding about paying if they know where the money is going. Even so, people still don't want to part with their hard-earned cash.

As far as nursery vouchers are concerned, I think the parties should stop arguing about whether to have them or not. The important thing, I believe, is to provide education for four-year-olds and the necessary facilities. It seems to me that vouchers could be a way of increasing nursery education in areas of the country where there is not much available.

I am worried about the idea of too much variation between schools because of the danger of making education difficult for children who move schools. My family moved from Scotland to Germany and then to Derby, but I was able to stay in the same type of school - a state comprehensive. I can see the advantages of specialist schools which both the Conservatives and Labour want to promote, and I'm sure specialised equipment and expert training are useful in making Britain more competitive. However, I think 11 is too early to decide whether a child should specialise. It would be better to create specialist sixth forms or colleges so students could choose at 16.

As a college student, I wish the political parties could all take more notice of further education. I understand that schools will always be at the top of politicians' agendas, but they could at least understand a bit more about how colleges work. I also think there could be more serious discussion of the political issues by all the parties, rather than just slagging each other off all the time.

Neil Lee and Matthew Goodworth, both 17, are studying A-levels at the Cherwell School, Oxford.

We see education as a great issue of importance not only to ourselves but to future generations and Britain as a whole. During this election, education has already been proven to be a critical issue and politicians ignore it at their peril.

Having lived all our lives under a Conservative government which seems to place little importance on education, we have become accustomed to cuts in our school budget and understaffing which can lead to disciplinary problems and a poor understanding of many subjects - it takes an exceptional teacher to get the best out of a class of more than 30.

Education is pivotal in maintaining reasonable wage levels in this country, that much we have learnt, because it enables us to compete on the world stage with a skilled workforce, innovation and scientific achievement rather than low wages, but the Government still seems to ignore this. Only the Liberal Democrats seem to have grasped the concept of taxation - that is, it should be set at reasonable levels in order to pay for the upkeep of a good education system.

Although the number of university places has increased, the amount of people who can afford to live while at university has decreased because of the increased cost of living and the reduced number of grants given by the Government to those who apply, leaving a privileged few only.

We do not believe in selection, it creates an underclass by splitting them in all subjects. Streaming should only be allowed in individual subjects in order for people to develop their skills at a pace suitable to themselves. Smaller class sizes would also allow this to occur, due to an increase in the amount of teacher-pupil interaction, letting pupils have the necessary help when and how they need it. We feel the national curriculum is far too rigid and does not give teachers the flexibility they need to effectively teach their subjects.

For all our criticisms, we must admit that the state education system has done well, especially for those of us privileged to go to some of the excellent schools which do exist. With the help of the next government perhaps more schools can reach the standards of the best.