A private company associated with the now-closed Durand Academy is embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with the Department for Education after refusing to hand over its assets to the government for free.
Durand Education Trust still owns the land occupied by a leisure centre and housing on the site of the Van Gogh Primary School in Lambeth, south London, formerly Durand Academy.
Durand Academy Trust (DAT), the school’s original sponsor, is in the process of being wound up after its funding was withdrawn by the government last year, following disputes over finances and allegations of conflicts of interest over the running of the leisure centre facilities. The Durand Academy, its only school, was rebrokered to the Dunraven Education Trust last summer.
Accounts for 2017-18, published yesterday, show the DfE has demanded DET transfers the assets associated with Durand back to Lambeth Council by January 1 2020, and that it should do this for “no consideration”.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency has also demanded that any proceeds from the proposed sale of Durand’s failed boarding school in Sussex should be held for the benefit of the Van Gogh Academy.
However, trustees at DET have refused these demands, saying they do not agree that the assets should be transferred for free and “dispute” that the primary school should receive proceeds from the sale of boarding school.
DET has sought legal advice, and the accounts said they are “confident of a successful outcome” but expect the argument to “take some time to resolve”.
In April, the company further attempted to sever ties with the primary school after it changed its charitable objectives to simply say it would focus on educational advancement of people under the age of 30 who are residents or former residents of Lambeth, rather than specifying an objective to help Durand pupils, as it used to.
The land and buildings of the primary school site in Stockwell were owned by Lambeth Council until it academised and joined the Durand Academy Trust in 2010, when they were transferred to the ownership of DET. Since the school was rebrokered the company no longer owns the school building, but still retains control of the other buildings onsite.
Durand Academy Trust opened a satellite boarding school in Sussex in September 2014, but was forced to close it just three years later after the DfE withdrew its funding offer. The trust had repeatedly failed to secure planning permission to develop the site, and was forced to write off assets worth more than £1.6 million as a result.
Durand initially ran the boarding school with money made from commercial leisure facilities on its Lambeth site. However, Schools Week reported in February 2016 that the satellite boarding school was in a deficit of £476,000 after just one year, after it spent far more than the amount it received from London Horizons, the company which runs the leisure facilities on the Lambeth site.
The parliamentary public accounts committee heard in November that most of the profits made by leisure facilities on the south London site are still being paid to the school’s former head Sir Greg Martin, who quit in 2015 and was entitled to an £850,000 “special payment” under a contractual agreement. He was due to receive an extra £1 million, but the Charity Commission intervened to ensure the level of remuneration was “reasonable”.