Fiona Millar: ‘State sector Eton’ for inner-city boarders fails to live up to the hype

Writing in the Guardian, Fiona Millar says there are many questions for the government to answer about problems over plans for Durand academy’s West Sussex boarding school outpost.

…State boarding schools are nothing new but the Durand academy senior school was to be radically different from any that had gone before. Billed as the “Eton of the state sector”, its aim was to lift hundreds of pupils out of inner London and provide them with a free weekly boarding education that Gove claimed would “equip them for the future every bit as effectively as any private school”.

But a year after the first intake started their education in what was previously a small special school nestling in the South Downs, how has the reality of this much-vaunted project lived up to its preceding claims?

The original plans were ambitious. The school would provide weekly boarding for 625 pupils in years 9-13 at the rapidly expanding all-through (for children aged 3-18) Durand academy in Stockwell, south London.

The majority of pupils at Durand, which was then led by one of Gove’s favourite headteachers, Sir Greg Martin, are from black African and Caribbean backgrounds. More than a third of pupils speak English as an additional language and half are eligible for free school meals. In 2011 the government pledged more than £17m to develop the St Cuthman’s special school site in West Sussex as a state-of-the-art boarding facility, which the Department for Education promised would be a “unique and pioneering project”.

But the original building project for the boarding school failed to get planning permission from South Downs National Park Authority, even after the school agreed to abandon its sixth form and scale back the numbers to 375. A planning appeal was withdrawn a year ago and last week the school admitted that, rather than the 250 pupils who should be at the school this term, it has only 75 pupils on roll in years 9 and 10 and is unable to expand beyond 79 pupils at present.

Durand academy’s overall education provision is still deemed “good” by Ofsted, which said that all pupils make good progress, including those with special needs. But a social care inspection in June judged its boarding provision to require improvement on all counts. Findings included poor safeguarding documentation, lack of compliance with the school’s own health and safety policy, lack of appropriate fire safety, children not being routinely able to contact parents in private, risk assessments not being consistently adhered to, and insufficient oversight of policies and procedures by the leadership team…

More at: ‘State sector Eton’ for inner-city boarders fails to live up to the hype


Fiona Millar goes on to detail a series of issues faced by Durand in general and the boarding school project in particular.

In particular, the suggestion is made that the government has questions to answer concerning the overseeing of public money in a project like this.

What do you think? Has this been a bold, useful experiment or an expensive folly?

Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. It appears it was overhyped as the Eton of the state sector – poorly maintained communal areas; a common room so small that boys and girls have to use it on alternate evenings; non-compliance with its own health and safety policies…
    And run by Durand whose complex set up was much criticised by the Public Accounts Committee, Durand which has been slapped with a Financial Notice to Improve, Durand – rife with conflicts of interest.
    But still deemed competent enough to run boarding facilities.

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