Norwich free school praised by prime minister David Cameron in conference closing speech, but left-wing opponents attacked

Prime minister David Cameron praised The Free School Norwich, in his keynote speech at the Conservative conference, but attacked left-wingers who opposed it.

He praised schools that had turned around their exam results since breaking free of council control, and in particular promoted his government's 'free schools' policy.

Under the initiative any group or organisation can ask for money from central government to set up a school outside of local authority control.

In what was clearly a reference to The Free School Norwich set up by Tania Sidney-Roberts, he said: 'When inspirational teachers and parents - in Hammersmith, in Norwich, in Bristol and in Wigan - wanted to open free schools, the left-wing establishment said no.'

He said: 'When inspirational teachers and parents in Hammersmith, in Norwich, in Bristol and in Wigan, wanted to open free schools the left-wing establishment said no.

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'When we proposed more pay for good teachers, getting rid of bad teachers, longer school days to help children learn, flexible school hours to help parents work, more stretching exams for those who are really able, less nonsense about health and safety, the left wing establishment have just said one thing, no.'

Mr Cameron visited the Surrey Street school in September last year.

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Mr Cameron also said the UK could no longer assume it would be a great industrial nation and that education was critical to ensuring it was.

In his speech, he also defended his party's economic plan, but admitted that it was taking longer for the economy to recover than he and his ministers had expected.

He said: 'Now I know you are asking whether the plan is working. And here's the truth; the damage was worse than we thought, and it's taking longer than we hoped.'

He went on: 'But here is the critical thing you need to know. Yes it's worse than we thought, yes it's taking longer, but we are making progress.'

Mr Cameron argued that Britain was a country 'on the rise', but that to achieve the government would have to continue to reform the welfare and public pension systems.

He also attacked Labour, a party he claimed would damage the UK's economy by borrowing further. In a jibe at Ed Miliband's 'One Nation' speech he said that Labour was the party of 'one notion'.

He also revealed the inspiration he drew from his 'eternal optimist' father Ian in a deeply personal passage in his conference speech today.

The prime minister's father died aged 77 following a stroke while on holiday in France in 2010, just four months after his son entered Downing Street.

The Conservative leader told activists at his party's conference in Birmingham that his father 'influenced me much more than I ever thought'.

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