A “national system of levels” could be introduced under a future Labour government, Tristram Hunt has said.

During his speech to the National Association of Head Teachers conference in Liverpool, the shadow education secretary criticised the government for what he described as “manic curriculum and assessment reforms” and said he accepted the need for stability.

But he did highlight some areas where his party would make further changes if it forms a government after the election next Thursday.

He said: “There are areas where I do think we will differ from the government’s trajectory.

“I do want to see, over time, a return to a national system of levels, building on the work that you all do in your schools at the moment.”

Mr Hunt also committed his party to hearing “ideas” from charities, councils, parents’ groups and other organisations wanting to set up their own schools and said they would receive support from a Labour government, despite his intention to scrap the free school programme.

He said: “Whilst we face extreme pressures on the public finances, whilst schools like yourselves are wrestling with national insurance and pension contributions and while sixth form colleges continue to have to pay VAT, we just cannot afford to be wasting money building schools in areas where there is already a surplus of places.

“However, this does not mean that we should turn our back on charities, social enterprises, teachers, educationalists, parents and community groups coming forward with innovative ideas for new schools.”

Mr Hunt said if people wanted to set up schools run by new directors of school standards in areas of needs, with a commitment to hiring qualified teachers, Labour would be “on their side, and that includes councils”.