A GOVERNMENT minister has accused the head of one of the Commons’ most powerful committees of “double standards” in a row over Michael Gove’s flagship education reforms.
Elizabeth Truss, a junior Education Minister, claimed Margaret Hodge had “chosen to ignore the facts” on free schools and accused her of championing them in her own constituency while criticising the policy in public.
Mrs Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, accused the Government of neglecting value for money in the rush to set up the schools after a report by a spending watchdog voiced concern about the speed in which the new flagship schools had been opened.
The National Audit Office said the Department for Education (DfE) had focused on opening free schools at pace rather than maximising value for money.
It also warned that the Government must learn lessons from the problems at the Kings Science Academy in Bradford – a free school which is facing allegations of fraud having submitted fabricated invoices to claim thousands of pounds of public money.
The NAO found that overall the DfE has made “clear progress” with the initiative, opening 174 schools so far.
In her response to the report, Labour MP Mrs Hodge, whose committee works closely with the NAO, said: “It appears that the DfE has neglected value for money in its rush to open free schools.”
She highlighted the Kings Science Academy case, adding “a number of high-profile cases have already surfaced, suggesting that monitoring systems remain inadequate. These cases highlight the urgent need for the department to reassess its oversight of fledgling schools, get a grip on under-performance and prevent the misuse of public money.”
But in an unusual and personal attack on the chair of a cross-party committee, Ms Truss pointed to a call from Mrs Hodge to support a free school in her Barking seat.
She said: “It is sad to see Margaret Hodge denigrating free schools after campaigning for one in her own backyard. It’s these kinds of double standards that put people off politics – one rule for her, another for everyone else.
“Margaret Hodge has chosen to ignore the facts. At £6.6m per school, free schools are being delivered at a fraction of the costs of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future scheme which cost £25m per school.
“Seven in 10 free schools are in areas with a shortage of places.”
Responding to Ms Truss’s comments, Mrs Hodge said: “I will not stand for being deliberately misrepresented on free schools.
“We urgently need more school places in my constituency, with hundreds of new places needed every year.
“This Government insists that new schools must be academies or free schools.”