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Tory doubts over academy school plans

Pupils in a classroom

Will every state school in England be an academy in six years time? Plenty of Conservatives doubt it, despite the plan being announced at the Budget. This is what's going on.

1) There's a remarkable fightback from Tories

First Conservative councillors complained. Then Tory MPs spoke out - not anonymously briefing journalists but laying into the policy in the House of Commons. In a remarkable debate, normally loyal Tories attacked one after another, including some parliamentary aides who are supposed to toe the line.

One - Steve Brine, who works for the health secretary Jeremy Hunt - told BBC Radio 4's Today there was "great concern" among Tories and the government needed a "way out". Labour are doing everything they can to turn opposition into rebellion.

2) Ministers think they can explain their way out of the problem

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is set to make a public commitment the plan won't result in school closures. She has written to every Conservative MP to say six years will be enough time for schools to make plans. Schools minister Nick Gibb has been trying to change minds in the Commons tearoom. They're arguing academies are simply better for pupils, parents and teachers.

3) The government can put off the moment of truth, for now

There won't be a chance to kill the plan for a while. When Labour prompted a debate on this, the government motion managed to avoid spelling out the policy, so MPs didn't have to back it. It's not yet written into a bill.

And when - perhaps if - they do vote on it there's every chance rules to give English MPs a greater say on laws that only affect England will help the government. But sceptical Tory MPs are watching carefully to see whether this features in the Queen's Speech setting out the government's plan for new laws. If it doesn't, they'll be certain a climbdown is coming.

4) Opponents outside Parliament are making an impact

Teachers, parents and councillors concerned about the plan are doing a good job of rattling MPs, who are keenly aware of how it is going down in their constituencies.

Tories back the idea of academies, and of creating more academies, but plenty don't see why good schools have to be forced to convert to this timescale. They are also worried about a proposed change that means parent governors would no longer be required.

5) A U-turn would hurt badly

This was the headline announcement on the morning of the Budget. Having abandoned plans to cut disability benefit, dumping it would damage not only Education Secretary Nicky Morgan but her old boss at the Treasury George Osborne too.

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