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David Cameron Refuses To Back Down On Forcing Schools To Become Academies

A defiant PM said he wanted to "finish the job" – but Jeremy Corbyn warned of opposition from parents, teachers, and Tory MPs.

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David Cameron has refused to back down over controversial plans to force all English state schools to become academies, saying he intends to "finish the job".

The prime minister struck a defiant tone in a feisty Commons question time on Wednesday as Jeremy Corbyn used all six of his questions to put him on the spot over the plans.

Corbyn said the "top-down reorganisation" was opposed by teachers, parents, and Tory MPs and urged the PM to think again.

But Cameron insisted the government was right to push through the plans, which represented "true devolution", and said good and outstanding schools had "nothing to fear".

Last week several Conservative MPs raised concerns about the move to convert all schools into academies by 2022, which was first unveiled in chancellor George Osborne's Budget.

Tory MP Will Quince said then: “Call me old fashioned but I hold the view that if you have a well-governed, well-run school that’s performing well, just leave it alone and let it do its job.”

Corbyn reminded Cameron of this quote and asked him: "Can you explain why good school leaders should focus their time and resources not on educating children but on arbitrary changes imposed from above?"

The PM replied: "I would say to outstanding or to good schools, they have nothing to fear from becoming academies but a huge amount to gain. The truth is even about outstanding or good schools we want them to be even better, and the truth is academies and greater independence, letting headteachers run their schools, has been hugely effective.

"Actually this is something started by the Labour government, given rocket boosters under this government. We have seen massive improvements in our schools because of academies and we say let's get on with it, finish the job, and give all our children a great opportunity."

Academies, which were brought in under a Labour government, are independent of local council control. Corbyn asked Cameron: "Can't you understand the anger so many people feel that just being imposed on them the system they don't want on what are often already very good if not outstanding schools?"

But the PM hit back: "The truth is creating academies is true devolution because you are putting the power in the hands of the headteachers and the teachers.

"And of course you'll find people in local government who want to keep things exactly as they are, but the truth is one of the reasons I so strongly support academies is that when they fail, they are intervened on so much faster."

After PMQs, a spokesman for Cameron said the policy was right because local education authorities were becoming responsible for fewer and fewer schools as the number of academies increased.

"It's about addressing that issue and ensuring kids get the best possible education," he said. "Clearly there's time to discuss these issues and look at these issues. But we're very clear the evidence is overwhelming that academies work.

"If Labour want to go die in a ditch for local education authorities that's for them to do. We're standing up for children and for their education."

Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Emily Ashton at emily.ashton@buzzfeed.com.

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