Urgent Parliamentary question deflected by blaming, claiming and comparing: Hunt’s positions are like those in Indian sex manuals, says Gove

Janet Downs's picture
Responding to an Urgent Question on Free Schools (Funding) this afternoon, Secretary of State Michael Gove deflected criticism of the free schools programme by blaming the Labour government. It was their fault for failing to address the shortfall in primary school places.

But the last Government did address the problem. It allocated £400m a year to shortage hotspots from 2007/8 to 2010/11.

Although 87% of free school primary places addressed the need for extra places, only 19% of secondary free schools did so. Some, like Beccles Free School and Route 39, have been set up where there’s already a surplus.

Nevertheless, Gove hailed the free schools policy a success. He evaded the question about whether the Basic Needs Allocation fund had been raided to pay for free schools by, again, blaming Labour. It had told local authorities (LAs) to cut primary places, Gove said.

But until 2007/8 the problem had been an oversupply of primary places and LAs, as Gove should know if he’s up to speed with LA statutory responsibilities, are legally responsible for managing school place supply. It wasn’t a case of Labour telling LAs to cut places – it was LAs doing what the law says they must.

Gove used the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report to eulogise the free schools programme. He highlighted one of the report’s few positive comments – the DfE had opened schools quickly. However, he ignored the PAC’s concerns which included:

1Secondary free schools were opened where they weren’t needed;

2Programme costs (DfE estimate £1.1b by March 2014) were escalating;

3Auditing and monitoring of free school governance were ineffective;

4Areas with severe shortages were attracting no free school proposals.

Free schools were oversubscribed, said Gove. But oversubscription figures don’t necessarily reflect a school’s popularity when every mention on parents’ application forms, whether first or last, is counted.

And then, the most contrived evasion technique so far, Gove - with a slight pause indicating he was about to make a joke - said the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt had more contorted positions on free schools than in “Indian sex manuals I could name”.

Schools minister Liz Truss, sitting on Gove’s right, chuckled. The expression on the face of the MP on Gove’s left was deadpan (he actually looked as if he wasn’t listening). Hunt, arms folded, looked bewildered.

And by the time I’d stopped watching the debate, it still wasn’t clear whether free schools had benefitted from money diverted from Basic Needs. Perhaps the full account in Hansard will bring enlightenment.

CORRECTION 13 May 2014. The original headline read "Urgent Parliamentary question deflected by blaming, claiming and comparing: Hunt’s positions are like those in Indian sex manual, says Gove." This has been changed to make it clear Michael Gove was referring to more than one.
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Neil Moffatt's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 19:43

It is astonishing that Gove can get away with this.

£400M overspend is not a trivial matter to allow him to indulge in flippancies.

Is there going to be a follow up in light of the reality of the situation? Surely a casual response to this urgent question is not enough?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 13/05/2014 - 08:05

Neil - Sky news said it was the "theatre" rather than the answers given that was illuminating. It shone light on the toxic row between Coalition members: schools minister David Laws was absent while Gove was surrounded by half-a-dozen Tories (Truss, the bored looking MP, an MP in blue who kept shouting "Shameful" whenever Gove said "cut", planning minister and friend of Gove Nick Boles).

The debate, according to Sky, brought "real bad blood" to the surface, said Sky (towards the end of this short video).

Neil Moffatt's picture
Tue, 13/05/2014 - 09:01

Thanks Janet. At least there is the hope that this toxicity can damage Gove's maniacal agenda.

Peter Martin's picture
Tue, 13/05/2014 - 11:36

Some insight from Oxfordshire on the Free Schools landscape, around Bicester.

The town has two established Secondaries; The Cooper, and Bicester Community College. Between them they have a combined PAN of 460 and, last year, admitted 339 young people into Yr 7. That left 121 'spare' places, albeit they were all in one of the two schools. There was no shortage of supply, in other words.

But never mind that: enter Heyfords Free School, with a PAN or 60, adding to the total spaces available but not needed, as there were already 121 spare! A Free School demonstrably not in an area of need.

[Space and allocation figures from OCC website]

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