Labour should not have promised to reduce class sizes for all children aged under eight before Tony Blair swept to power, one of his policy advisers said yesterday.
Matthew Taylor, who was the Labour Party's director of policy during the 1997 general election campaign and now heads the influential Institute for Public Policy Research, told a conference in Brighton: "I think the Government made a mistake in 1997 and that was the class-size pledge.
"Reducing class sizes from 32 to 30 makes no difference. I think the money should have gone into the schools with the worst problems and massively reduced the class sizes there to the class sizes in the independent sector.
"Classes of 15 and 20 pupils in the inner-city areas, we know from research in the United States, would have made a difference."
His claim will be viewed as an embarrassment to Labour, being made on the fifth anniversary of its election and the eve of local government polls. Later Mr Taylor, who stressed he was speaking personally, said that the pledge had been introduced to give all parents a reason to vote Labour.
The number of pupils aged 5, 6 or 7 in class sizes of more than 30 has dropped from a peak of 485,000 in 1998 to only 10,000 in figures published last week.
Mr Taylor, who was speaking to a conference of independent school heads at Brighton College, said there was now "an educational crisis" in London because of the flight by middle-class parents to independent schools. He said the numbers leaving were now posing a threat to the viability of state schools, in terms of whether they had a social mix of children and were educationally viable. "It makes teaching difficult and control difficult," he added.
Radical measures such as slashing inner-city class sizes to 15 or 20 and guaranteeing the top 20 per cent of pupils in any school a university place regardless of their academic attainment were needed to solve the problem.
"The more the independent sector expands, the more damage is done to the state sector,'' he added.
Mr Taylor also urged Britain's top independent schools to use their management expertise to take over the running of state schools.
Meanwhile, the former head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority told the conference thatchildren were being over-examined. Dr Nick Tate, now head of Winchester College, said many pupils now faced four continuous years of external exams if they took some GCSEs a year early and went on to do AS and A levels.
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