Will Durand’s ‘Eton-style’ boarding school for state pupils ever materialise?

Writing in the Guardian, Fiona Millar says questions hang over the proposed boarding academy about its financial viability and its benefit to children…

It has been dubbed the Eton of the state sector, a “Harry Potter” type school nestled in the South Downs, aimed at giving a public school boarding education to some of London’s most disadvantaged children. But less than three months before the Durand Boarding Academy is due to open its doors in the sleepy West Sussex village of Stedham, confusion surrounds the long-term future of what has been called one of Michael Gove‘s pet projects.

Refurbishment of the site, which should be home from September to a year-8 cohort currently at Durand’s middle school in South London, does not appear to be under way. Classroom blocks are without roofs; there are rumours that the buildings have limited water supply, and local concerns about sewage treatment. The only functional part of the property is a Grade II listed Norman Shaw country house which, according to local residents, can at best house around 50 pupils if it is to accommodate teaching and boarding provision under current government guidelines…

Local residents have fiercely resisted the plan, challenging the costs of converting what was previously a small SEN school, the practicality of transporting hundreds of pupils from London at the crack of dawn on a Monday morning in deepest winter, and the long-term financial viability of the project, which they claim may result in a white elephant at the heart of their community.

And the National Audit Office and the House of Commons public accounts committee have expressed concerns about the strength of the boarding project’s financial planning. The auditor general, Amyas Morse, last year wrote to the DfE permanent secretary suggesting that the department lacked “sufficiently robust estimates of the financial risks of the project”…

… Anne Reynolds, chair of the local Woolbeding with Redford parish council, says: “As far as we can see there is no evidence that this project will improve the pupils’ chances. Inner London schools are doing much better than many rural schools. As a taxpayer, I find it quite shocking that so much money could be committed without any evidence. And we still haven’t been informed about what will happen in September. From the start, the project has lacked transparency and openness.”

Perhaps the most contentious issue is Durand’s claim that it is possible to provide high-quality boarding education and transport without charging any fees…

Most state boarding schools charge fees of between £8,500 and £13,500 to fund boarding costs. The DfE provides guidelines on how schools should calculate these costs, which cover everything that is not covered by education funding and would include specialist staff, pastoral care, extra-curricular activities, food, TV, telephones, laundry and so on.

In the Durand academy’s funding model, which Martin claimed on Friday was “rigorously planned”, the boarding costs will be slashed to £2,051 a year because educational hours will run from 8:15am to 9:30pm and be cross-subsidised from the school’s general academy grant, pupil premium income and possibly a further subsidy from the profits from London Horizons, a leisure centre and student accommodation Durand owns in Lambeth, which last year generated profits of £500,000 and was recently the subject of controversy owing to its relationship with Martin’s private consultancy, GMG Ltd.

But state boarding school head Melvyn Roffe, of Wymondham college in Norfolk, has challenged the Durand plan in a letter to the schools minister Lord Nash. He claims the Durand figure is “implausibly low”, lacks clarity about staff accommodation and salaries and fails to take into account the impact of spreading the school’s budget thinly across such an extended day…

More at: Will Durand’s ‘Eton-style’ boarding school for state pupils ever materialise?

Any thoughts, comments or insights on the Durand Boarding Academy? Is it going to be up and running in September? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…

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Comments

  1. jess_madge

    SchoolsImprove Did the Dept of Ed do a risk assessment on this? Or were they gung-ho because it was a headline grabber?

  2. Janet2

    @jess_madge SchoolsImprove Greg Martin (now Sir Greg) is one of Gove’s favourite heads.  He’s always being mentioned in dispatches even when similar Lambeth schools do equally well or better in terms of results.  Durand has one of the lowest proportion of SEN children in Lambeth but Gove said it had a proportion higher than the national average and it managed to get them up to Level 5 in Sats.  That wasn’t true – no school existed in England where this happened, a FoI response revealed.  For more info on this see:

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/10/dfe-confirms-gove-has-visited-schools-that-dont-exist/

    Durand spent thousands of pounds on a marketing campaign to link Durand with “excellence”.  And the Education Funding Agency’s just criticised Sir Greg for contracts between the school and a company which he runs.

    Given the  inaccurate spin coming from Gove about Durand, we should be highly suspicious of this part-time boarding scheme and the risible claim that it will be like Eton.  (Do Etonians gets bussed in on Monday mornings and out again Friday nights?  Will Durand boarding school have the same facilities as Eton?)

  3. garrodt

    SchoolsImprove MumsnetBloggers NASUWT NUTonline If it does only the kids of dads in power will get in ! Imagine the dog fighting !!

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