Hague attacks Blair over rise in class sizes

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WILLIAM HAGUE, the Tory leader, attacked the Prime Minister yesterday for failing to reduce class sizes, claiming the overall number had gone up last year.

But Tony Blair insisted during question time that the forthcoming annual government report would prove that the extra money from the scrapped assisted- places scheme meant that thousands of primary pupils were now in classes of fewer than 30.

He accused Mr Hague of being "mistaken" and using the "wrong figures". "What you actually did for primary schools was take one key stage and omit the rest. If you take them all together, primary school classes are falling. Class sizes have fallen for the first time in 10 years. We are seeing falls in primary school classes," he said.

In bitter exchanges, the Tory leader challenged Mr Blair to admit that he was wrong when he told MPs at question time last week that class sizes were falling. Figures released later by Tory sources showed that the average class size in primary schools had stalled from 27.5 in 1996 at 27.6 this year. The numbers for secondary schools had risen during the same period from 21.9 to 22.0.

t The Prime Minister rejected calls by the Tory leader yesterday to think again about "huge reductions" in the Territorial Army.

Mr Hague warned that the Army was now "severely overstretched" and urged the Government to postpone cuts in the TA: "You must know that the Army is severely overstretched with 89 per cent of its forces committed in some way... would it not now be wise to reconsider the huge reductions in the TA?"

Replying, Mr Blair stressed: "Your government cut defence spending by almost 30 per cent and cut the TA as well. These changes are to the benefit of the TA. They will be better used in the future."