DEVON teachers have condemned as "elitist" proposals for a new centre of excellence for maths in Exeter.
The specialist Free School, the first of its kind outside London, will recruit 120 pupils aged 16 to 19 from across the South West, preparing them for the toughest degrees.
The joint University of Exeter and Exeter College project, under the Government's Free Schools programme, has promised to become a regional centre of excellence.
But, despite receiving backing from Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw, the move has been strongly criticised by the Devon branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
Mike Gurney, Devon NUT deputy secretary, said: "Free schools aren't free. Taxpayers are paying heavily at a time of financial austerity to subsidise Mr Gove's vanity project. Money is being diverted to pay for the development of schools, which are not wanted or needed, with lavish sums spent on new buildings and extra per-pupil funding for under-subscribed free schools."
Mr Gurney added: "The Government promised its free schools would not select pupils based on ability, except for sixth form institutions where students needed to cope with the rigours of the course.
"Mr Gove is extending this exception to bring in an elitist institution that would recruit only 60 students per year from across the whole of the South West. This is re-interpreting and extending the existing provisions and is not what the intention of Parliament was."
The latest review of Ofsted inspections in Devon showed over 60 per cent of schools as having improved and 98 per cent as having improved or stayed the same.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said free schools were a "pet project" of the Education Secretary "which siphons off vital funds. that should be used by existing schools".
Mr Bradshaw said: "Extra provision at a regional centre of excellence to nurture and inspire our mathematicians of the future is a good idea.
"Exeter College and Exeter University both have superb records and students throughout the Westcountry who are talented in maths will benefit from the specialist expertise and support they can provide."
Janice Kay, deputy vice-chancellor of Exeter University, said: "If we are to nurture talent and enable our budding young mathematicians to reach their full potential, it is crucial to foster a culture of attainment. We must enable promising youngsters to explore the common interests."
Exeter's free school is scheduled to open in September 2014, subject to funding.