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Gove rejects claims that Durham free school "a waste of money"
MICHAEL Gove has defended a North-East ‘free school' with just 34 pupils, rejecting claims that it is a waste of money.
Quizzed by MPs, the Education Secretary said newly-opened Durham Free School, in Durham City, had “the potential to be a very, very good school”.
The school has provoked controversy that it is too costly in a city with many other high-performing secondaries with surplus places on their rolls.
Meanwhile, rebuilding schemes at other crumbling North-East schools have been axed to help fund the £1bn free school revolution.
And Durham Free School has announced ambitious plans for expansion, to a total of 450 pupils within seven years and 630 two years after that, adding a sixth-form.
Mr Gove was questioned at a meeting of the education select committee, which includes North West Durham MP Pat Glass as a member.
The Labour MP said: “This year, a school closed in Durham City because of lack of numbers.
“There are five other secondary schools in the city, all with surplus places, all good or outstanding- and there are some incredibly outstanding schools in Durham City.
“Now a free school has opened - in the same building where a school closed. Do you think that school is a good use of taxpayers’ money?”
In reply, Mr Gove said: “Yes and I think, in future, we will be able to judge that school against the other schools in Durham City.
“The proposal put forward had a great deal to recommend it and it had support from local employers as well.
“On basis of the case that was put, ministers thought it had the potential to be a very, very good school. We will have to wait to see how good.”
During the session, Mr Gove defended free schools - which are taxpayer-funded, but independent of local authorities - after unfolding scandals at several others.
He added: “It would be an act of derangement to deny the improvement that they bring.”
Durham Free School opened in September- based, temporarily, in the former Durham Gilesgate Sports College, in Gilesgate.
It will serve villages south-east of Durham City and is “hotly pursuing” a move to a permanent site in the area for the school year beginning in September 2015.
It has nine teachers, including head Peter Cantley, but six work part time, adding up to one full-time post between them.
Yesterday, Mr Gove also dashed the hopes of Conservatives who want free schools to be profit-making, insisting that would not happen on his watch.
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