Cottages on Durand boarding school site listed for sale as dispute over proceeds drags on


A dispute over proceeds from the sale of a failed state boarding school is dragging on four years after it closed, with two cottages on the West Sussex site now listed for sale at £500,000 apiece.

Durand Academy’s satellite boarding site at St Cuthman‘s, near Midhurst, closed in 2017 after the Department for Education withdrew its offer of more than £17 million in funding.

It opened three years earlier to cater for pupils in certain year groups from Durand’s main school in Lambeth, south London. It was the first in the country not to charge parents boarding fees.

The site, known as the Wispers Estate, was put on the market for about £4 million. Its current owner is the Durand Education Trust (DET), the sister charity of Durand Academy, which was rebrokered in 2018 and is now called Van Gogh Primary School.

But two cottages on the estate were recently listed for sale, while the rest of the site will be sold for a development of flats and houses. The fee has not been disclosed.

An advert on Rightmove lists the two cottages as ripe “for refurbishment within charming rural surroundings of the South Downs countryside”.

The cottages also have the “potential to extend, subject to planning approval, on the outskirts of the desirable village of Stedham”.

Adrian Hearle, who lives near the estate, said residents were keen to see it brought back into use, but questioned the rationale for selling the cottages separately.

“It’s been very sad to see the deterioration of the building over the years. The dumped rubbish on the site of the demolished classroom blocks, things like that. It’s all very depressing. Certainly as locals we’re very keen that the site has a sustainable future,” he told Schools Week.

‘Discussions’ ongoing over proceeds from site sale

The listing of the cottages comes in the midst of a long dispute over what will happen with the proceeds from the estate’s sale.

In its accounts for the year ending August 2018, DET said the Education and Skills Funding Agency “consider the funds from the proposed sale of the property at St Cuthman’s should be held on trust for the benefit of the primary school on the Hackford Road site {in south London], which the trustees dispute”.

DET’s latest accounts, for the year to August 2019, said the company was still “in the process of selling” the St Cuthman’s site and “will apply the proceeds towards its charitable objects”.

But the Department for Education said it was still “in discussion” with Durand and the Charity Commission over the proceeds, but could not say more because of separate legal proceedings regarding the school’s main site.

A Charity Commission spokesperson said it had been “made aware of the sale of two cottages on land owned by the Durand Education Trust in Sussex”.

“We continue to engage with the charity on a number of issues following our earlier statutory inquiry, including about the application of funds arising from the sale of the former boarding school site. We can’t comment further.”

Legal battle over Lambeth site continues

The failed boarding school was one of a number of controversial ventures by DET. The charity wholly owns a private company, London Horizons Limited, which runs commercial leisure facilities and accommodation on the Lambeth site.

Although the commercial land was transferred back to Lambeth council in October, DET is embroiled in a legal fight for compensation. It lost a Court of Appeal bid last year to get the money, and is now appealing to the Supreme Court.

Durand has racked up huge legal bills through court action. In 2017, the academy trust took Ofsted to the High Court and was initially successful in quashing a damning ‘inadequate’ grading, but the inspectorate won at appeal.

Accounts show Durand’s legal and professional fees bill rocketed to more than £620,000 in 2018.

DET also had a “special payment” contractual agreement to pay Sir Greg Martin, th academy’s former head, £850,000 in compensation from the profits of the leisure facilities.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said it would be “morally reprehensible” for Durand to be given any more public money.

“The eye-watering sums that have accrued to the charity over the years and the fact that the former headteacher received such lavish compensation, are an indictment not just of Durand, but of the system that allowed this to happen.”

DET was approached for comment.

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