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Jeremy Corbyn receives standing ovation at National Union of Teachers conference

Published 25/03/2016

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is the guest speaker at the conference
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is the guest speaker at the conference

Jeremy Corbyn was given a standing ovation as he became the first political leader in living memory to address the National Union of Teachers' (NUT) conference.

The Labour veteran, a fervent opponent to the Government's planned academisation programme, brought the packed conference hall in Brighton to its feet as he took to the stage to accuse Tories of presiding over a "crisis in our schools".

The former backbencher, propelled to leader following last year's Conservative general election victory, said: "George Osborne used the Budget to announce the forced academisation of all schools.

"Let's be clear - this is an ideological attack on teachers and on local and parental accountability - it was nowhere in Tory manifesto, it's something that's just been dreamt up at the last minute and stuck into the Budget.

"I want schools accountable to their parents and their communities - not as a process of asset-stripping our facilities to be handed over to somebody else.

"There is not a shred of evidence that academies improve standards."

Mr Corbyn told the conference his late mother was a maths teacher and NUT member, and drew laughs when he identified someone who he said would benefit from her teachings.

He said: "There's one or two pupils around the country who need extra tuition - one of those is George Osborne.

"Having just presented a Budget to Parliament that doesn't add up - in fact it has a massive black hole in it - I think maybe a little extra tuition would be useful to him.

"Is anybody offering? Please, somebody!"

Switching back to the Government's plan for academisation, he added: "There is a crisis in our schools now.

"Children are facing rising class sizes; there is a shortage of teachers, and parents already face a crisis in school places.

"Forced academisation will do nothing to address any of those problems.

"Yet, in Osborne's Budget, over £600 million has been allocated to needless reorganisation that has addressed not a single issue that matters to teachers, parents or pupils.

"You see where the priorities are - spending money on a reorganisation nobody wants, to reduce the influence and control of local authorities in order to bring in unaccountable academies. Those are the Tory priorities - they're absolutely not ours."

Members of the audience shouted: "We love you Jeremy" as he left the stage.

Some may see Mr Corbyn's speech at the NUT conference as helping soothe relations between his party and union delegates.

His appearance came 14 years since senior Labour figures stopped coming to the gathering following the hostile reception given to then-education secretary Baroness Estelle Morris in 2002, who was heckled and slow-hand-clapped.

The Government's plans to force all schools in England to turn into academies have come under fire from Labour, the unions and some Conservatives in local government who will be stripped of the power to run schools in their areas.

Mr Corbyn's intention to speak at conference was not officially confirmed until his campaign team posted a note on Twitter, informing the account's more than 110,000 followers, just a few hours before the five-day event was due to officially open.

Christine Blower, long-time general secretary of the NUT, said she was "very pleased" Mr Corbyn broke with tradition to attend.

She told reporters: "Jeremy got in touch with us and asked if he could come and speak to delegates because the approach of the Labour leadership now is to talk to people and have engagement about the policies.

"We've never actually been approached by anyone else, any politician, who's wanted to come. So when you get a party leader who's clearly very interested in doing things differently asking to come, it seemed wise to accede to that.

"I don't believe we've ever had a party leader here. It is true that I have only been a member since 1973, and I haven't been at every single conference, and the union was founded in 1870, so people who dredge through the archives might be able to find one...

"But it is not something that has happened in my memory of NUT conferences."

Asked if she would welcome David Cameron's request to speak at future conferences, Ms Blower joked: "It's a hypothetical question to which I will not respond."

The conference is due to conclude on Tuesday.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: " We want to see educational excellence everywhere in the country - we are protecting the schools budget in real terms and making funding fairer by introducing a new national funding formula so that areas with highest need attract the most funding.

"We're investing hundreds of millions in teacher recruitment and the vacancy rate has remained low over the last 15 years. In fact, last year we recruited 116% of our primary schools target, and the pupil teacher ratio has remained stable when compared to 2010.

"We know unnecessary workload is one of the biggest frustrations for teachers and have done more than ever to tackle this by setting up three review groups to address the key concerns raised through the workload challenge. We trust heads, governors and academy trusts to plan their staffing and make sure teachers and staff have the support they need."

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