A small London academy trust has been lined up to run Durand Academy, after the Harris Federation backed out of a sponsorship deal, citing concerns about legal agreements and the state of the school’s buildings.

The government has agreed in principle to allow Dunraven Educational Trust, which runs neighbouring all-through school Dunraven Academy, to take over at Durand from September.

The school has been in limbo since plans to terminate the government’s funding agreement with its existing sponsor, the Durand Academy Trust, were announced last July.

Harris is one of the country’s largest academy chains with 44 schools in London,  and was touted as the Department for Education’s preferred sponsor for the school last year.

But the trust said today it had decided it could not proceed with the sponsorship deal because of a spate of unresolved issues with the school.

“Despite frequent requests since being asked by the DfE to bring Durand into the Harris Federation, governors of the school only provided us with the financial, legal and capital information we needed for our due diligence last month,” a Harris spokesperson said.

“Our finance board, which has experience of delivering 44 highly successful academies, reviewed this information and judged that we could not proceed.”

Harris pointed to “risky legal agreements” with Durand Education Trust – another organisation which owns the school’s land – which it said “could not be untangled in time” for the school to transfer to a new trust this summer.

The trust’s board was also concerned that meeting the “significant needs” of Durand’s building would “depend too heavily on the resources of our other schools”. This would “not be fair on our existing students, parents or staff”, the spokesperson said.

Harris will instead provide assistance to Dunraven as it prepares to run the school from September.

“Our priority is to make sure all children get a world-class education, and we are therefore pleased to confirm that Dunraven Educational Trust has agreed in principle to take over Durand Academy,” a DfE spokesperson said.

“Dunraven has a strong performance record, is popular with parents and already has an existing relationship with Durand Academy. Durand Academy will be transferred by September and our efforts will be focused on minimising disruption for pupils and staff during this time.”

The announcement follows a long-running dispute between the Durand Academy Trust and the Education and Skills Funding Agency over the organisation’s finances and management structure.

The government announced in June last year that it was seeking a new sponsor after the trust repeatedly refused to address finance concerns and potential conflicts of interest, or to sever ties with its former executive headteacher, Sir Greg Martin.

The school was criticised by MPs in 2015 after it emerged that a proportion of Martin’s £400,000 salary came from a company that also runs the school’s leisure facilities on a commercial basis.

Martin, who retired as the school’s head in 2015 but quickly became the chair of its board, finally resigned at the end of August last year, following the school’s High Court victory to overturn a damning Ofsted inspection report.

Earlier this year, Durand’s accounts revealed that legal and professional fees incurred by the trust increased from around £210,000 in 2016 to more than £620,000 in 2018. It suggests the trust spent more than £800,000 on legal assistance in just two years.