MICHAEL Gove has insisted a new North-East ‘free school’ is “excellent value” – after it was revealed it has nine teachers for just 31 pupils.

The Education Secretary threw his weight behind the newly-opened Durham Free School, after a Labour MP branded it an “act of political folly”.

And he accused that MP, Easington’s Grahame Morris, of “reading from the NASUWT and NUT hymn book” – the teachers’ unions opposed to free schools.

Mr Gove told MPs: “For far too long, schools in County Durham, particularly in the east of the county, have not been good enough.

“Parents at last have a challenger school helping to raise standards in an area where, frankly, working class children have been let down for far too long by a complacent Labour Party.”

The answer – repeating comments first made in February, when Mr Gove attacked the “smell of defeatism” in east Durham schools - drew a furious response from Mr Morris.

The Labour MP accused the Education Secretary of getting his facts wildly wrong, ignoring recent, highly-impressive exam results in east Durham.

Mr Morris pointed to record numbers of students achieving five A*-C grades, including maths and English, at Shotton Hall Academy, Easington Academy and Seaham School of Technology.

There were also record-breaking results at Dene Community School and St Bede’s, looking at progress made in English and maths since the age of 11, he said.

Mr Morris said: “Once again, Michael Gove has chosen to attack east Durham schools, rather than praising the hard work and dedication of students and teachers.

“He refuses any invitation to visit the schools, which he is quick to condemn, but is unwilling to help.

“Mr Gove is deluded by political prejudice and is more interested in trying to score political points than in the education of our children.”

Free schools, set up by charities, parents or teachers, are independent of local authorities, receiving funding directly from the department for education (Dfe).

The flagship policy has struggled to get off the ground in the North-East, despite Mr Gove’s original pledge that it would be most popular in disadvantaged areas.

However, Durham Free School, the county’s first, opened last week, in the former Durham Gilesgate Sports College, in Gilesgate, Durham.

It will serve villages south-east of Durham City, amid hopes that it will move to a permanent site in the area for September 2015.