‘Complexities’ hold up Durand Education Trust investigation

An investigation into management at the Durand Education Trust is still ongoing, the charities watchdog has admitted.

The Charity Commission told Schools Week it understood that the length of the inquiry into the organisation, which holds the land used by Durand Academy in south London, was a “concern” but insisted “complexities” must first be addressed.

Launched last February, the investigation is over conflicts of interest and potential “unauthorised private benefits” from the charity’s activities. A final report will identify if there has been any misconduct.

The investigation follows a grilling of then executive head Sir Greg Martin over management fees paid to his company GMG, which ran the London Horizons leisure facilities on the site of Durand Academy. During a public accounts committee sitting, convened to look at conflicts of interest at the school, chair Margaret Hodge described Sir Greg’s £420,000 annual earnings as “gobsmacking”.

The case is particularly confusing as it involves similarly named bodies: Durand Education Trust (DET) and Durand Academy Trust, which runs the school.

Senior civil servants in the Department for Education have raised concerns about a “lack of separation” between the organisations.

Staff and parents hoped a report would be released last year — the long investigation has led to criticisms of the watchdog, which now has ultimate authority over an academy’s charitable status.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who succeeded Ms Hodge as chair of the committee, told Schools Week an update on the progress of the investigation would be helpful, adding that her committee was “really concerned” about the “accountability gap” in some academy chains.

“There are wider lessons to be learned here, as I’m sure this is not an isolated case,” she said.

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the investigation’s terms of reference pointed to “serious questions to be answered”.

She said: “It is important the inquiry begins, completes its work and reports in short order so that the public can be satisfied on these significant matters.”

MPs heard last January that earnings from GMG provided Sir Greg with £161,000 in 2012/13 and £175,000 in 2013/14, on top of his headteacher’s salary of £229,138 in 2012/13. They also heard a dating agency used an address on the school site.

The Durand Academy Trust was issued with a financial notice to improve in March last year, which raised concerns about Mark McLaughlin as the primary school’s head and director of DET and London Horizons. Sir Greg retired in September.

It is not the first time the Charity Commission has come under fire for delays in its inquiries.

In 2013, a damning National Audit Office report found it could be “slow to act” during investigations, pointing to several inquiries where “periods of several months passed during which the commission took no action”.

A spokesperson for the watchdog said: “We understand the concerns regarding the length of time that the inquiry has taken. However, there have been complexities in respect of the Durand Education Trust case that will need to be resolved before the inquiry can be concluded.”

The trust did not respond to requests for comment.

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