Durand Academy Trust refuses to cut ties with controversial former executive head


An academy trust has vowed to fight ministers all the way to court after defying government orders to sever ties with its former highly paid executive headteacher or face losing its funding.

The Durand Academy Trust (DAT) was told by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) its funding agreement would be revoked unless eight conditions were met by the end of August.

The demands include severing ties with its chair of governors and former executive head, Sir Greg Martin (pictured), who faced criticism from MPs after it emerged his £229,000 school salary was topped up by another £160,000 by a private firm that runs the school’s leisure facilities.

But Schools Week can reveal the trust has refused to meet all of the government’s demands – with Martin still in post as chair.

In an exclusive interview with Schools Week, Mark McLaughlin, the trust’s interim executive headteacher, said: “We will fight this vigorously. Our lawyers’ advice is they have no right to ask for these things to be done.”

He vowed to call the government’s bluff on its funding threats, adding: “The problem is that we have stood up to the EFA – a lot of schools are unhappy with them.

“The government is in a difficult position. If we go to court at least all the facts will be laid out.”

McLaughlin, also ordered to resign from his posts within the trust and its associated companies, launched an astonishing attack on how the department has handled the case.

“Michael Gove [the former education secretary] gave schools the opportunity to be creative and independent, but since he’s gone the civil servants just run it. They are unelected, unaccountable and are suffocating headteachers from doing their jobs.

“It’s [Durand] unique and different, but difference isn’t to be welcomed. Civil servants have to tick their boxes. It’s outrageous what these civil servants are doing.”

Schools Week understands the trust is refusing to meet three conditions – all of which relate to alleged conflicts of interests between the trust and other companies.

The government is in a difficult position. If we go to court at least all the facts will be laid out

As well as the resignations of McLaughlin and Martin, DAT must ensure none of its directors are on the board of Durand Education Trust (which owns the land occupied by Durand Academy in Lambeth), London Horizons (which runs the schools leisure facilities on a commercial basis), and GMG Management Resource (a company owned by Martin).

McLaughlin said that Durand Education Trust would meet a condition to transfer back £1.8 million to the academy trust, as long as the EFA gave reassurances it would not confiscate the cash.

He said DAT ringfenced the money as its contribution to build a new state boarding school. McLaughlin claimed it had not received a penny of a promised £17 million from Gove for the project.

McLaughlin said DAT has also lodged a formal complaint against EFA chief executive Peter Lauener over how the trust has been treated.

He also hit out at a “forensic investigation” launched by the government, which involved auditors from a private firm being based at the school for seven months.

The draft report, not yet been published, contained only “minor recommendations”, such as “improving minute taking”.

“There is just nothing to justify taxpayer’s money being spent on this.” He claimed his freedom of information request to reveal the cost of the exercise has been refused.

DAT has outlined its position in writing to the Department for Education (DfE), which will respond by November 1.

A government source claimed the trust had “ignored repeated warnings that strong action would be taken to safeguard the future education of their pupils if they continued to fail to comply with the standard rules and procedures by which all trusts must abide”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are currently considering a response received from Durand Academy Trust on whether to continue the process of terminating the trust’s funding agreement. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

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    • Sorry David – I don’t recognise that at all. My 32 year career as a secondary teacher ended with 14 years of headship preceded by experience in three other LEA comprehensives and a grammar.

      In addition we have had three children all of whom were educated in LEA (then) comprehensive schools. As a parent I took a deep interest in how all these schools were managed and run.

      I never came across any issues remotely similar to those discussed in this article. It was impossible for financial conflicts of interest to persist in LEA schools. Heads were answerable directly to governors and governors to parents, some of whom were governors. In addition there were trade union representatives in every school who would become aware of any malpractice very rapidly.

      As for LEA heads ‘rebelling’ against their LEA, I think you are referring to the right of LEA school governors to support (or not) the policies of the head in relation to educational and pedagogic approaches that some LEA advisers might not agree with. The LEA was never ‘the boss’, it never ‘controlled’ schools, and a good thing too. The only time that the LEA ever became involved in the running of a school was the rare event of improper conduct by the head/governors. In those days heads of LEA schools had far more ‘freedom to innovate’ than the heads of Academy schools controlled by MATs have now.

      The problem of Academies and Free Schools is that they are NOT regulated by the equivalent of LEAs, which were transparent and in my view effective in meeting their responsibilities and defending the interests of pupils and parents. I can state with absolute certainly that there are no parallels here whatever with the LEA system.

  1. The situation at Durand is complex – so complex that the National Audit Office said such arrangements could ‘increase the perception of any wrongdoing’.
    The NAO had investigated EFA oversight of related party transactions and found some contracts to organisations linked to Durand had been made without competition. This is clearly against Academy Handbook rules.
    It appears, then, that the NAO can be added to the list of ‘civil servants’ who apparently don’t recognise Durand’s ‘difference’. The roll call includes the Public Accounts Committee which took exception, among other things, to a private members’ club being registered at the academy’s address and the Schools Adjudicator who found Durand’s admission criteria fell foul of the School Admission Code
    There’s also the Charity Commission which is investigating Durand Education Trust. DET’s accounts for the year ending 31 August 2015 describes the Commission’s investigation as ‘unmerited’. That remains to be seen.