Education Minister Evripidis Stylianidis pleaded with political parties yesterday not to take advantage of high school students as the number of schools that have been locked down by teenagers rose to about 350 ahead of a nationwide protest by students and teachers tomorrow. «I call on the political powers of the land not to choose this arena in which to conduct their political battles,» said Stylianidis. «It is wrong to hold our children hostage when there are so many other ideological and political fields where we can do battle.» The recently appointed minister did not single out any particular party but his comments drew a response from Alekos Alavanos, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). «I think the minister will be making a mistake if he tries to be a more polite version of [former Public Order Minister] Polydoras and if he looks to blame other political powers,» said Alavanos. The students who have shut down schools, 250 of which are in Attica, are demanding more spending on education and the safeguarding of free public universities. Meanwhile, university rectors are set to back the government’s plans to reform the tertiary education sector but will ask to be given plenty of time to make the changes, sources said yesterday ahead of a rectors’ council due to start in Kalamata on Friday. The reforms include the introduction of assessment for universities and sources said that the rectors will back this move as long as the institution’s funding will not be based on the marks they receive. Rectors are also set to express support for private colleges as long as the government ensures that they are strictly monitored.