Academies

Supreme Court ends Durand Academy land dispute

Highest court throws out appeal bid from trustees seeking compensation for commercial facilities on school site

Highest court throws out appeal bid from trustees seeking compensation for commercial facilities on school site

Durand
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A charity demanding compensation for giving up commercial facilities on the site of the former Durand Academy in London has had its bid to take its fight to the Supreme Court thrown out.

The UK’s highest court confirmed to Schools Week that a permission to appeal application by the Durand Education Trust has been denied.

It ends the organisation’s long-running legal dispute with the Department for Education over leisure facilities and private accommodation in Lambeth.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, but warned that Durand was just “an extreme example of issues that are unresolved in the academy system”, particularly around the ownership of school land.

“The fact it’s had to go to the highest court in the land just shows how inadequate the checks and balances were when the academies programme was set up.”

The Supreme Court application was lodged after the Court of Appeal threw out Durand’s judicial review of the DfE’s decision to demand the return of the land without payment.

The school closed in 2018 and reopened as Van Gogh primary school. At that point the school land and buildings were handed over to its new sponsor, the Dunraven Educational Trust.

DfE ‘justified’ in withholding compensation

But the Durand Education Trust kept hold of land occupied by a private leisure centre and accommodation, including the top floors of the school’s main building.

Durand was ordered in 2019 to transfer the remaining land to Lambeth Council for the use of Van Gogh. It officially did so on in October 2020, but argued in court that it should be compensated for its investment in the facilities.

The court dismissed the case, saying the government was “amply justified in concluding that no compensation should be paid to DET for the leisure centre land”.

The DfE this week welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to refuse permission to appeal, and said it would “continue to focus on securing the best outcomes for pupils, families and staff at Van Gogh Primary and across the school system”.

“Academy trusts’ status as companies, charities and public sector bodies mean they can be rightly held up to great scrutiny, and in the very rare circumstances such as these, where action needs to be taken, we do so.”

Plan for running leisure facilities unclear

However, the future management arrangements for the running of the commercial facilities on Van Gogh’s site remain unclear.

A deal was struck in 2020 for Durand’s trading arm, London Horizons, to continue to run the facilities for another 18 months.

That agreement comes to an end in April. Lambeth Council told Schools Week that the council and Dunraven were “continuing to review future arrangements to ensure transparency in the operation and management of the leisure centre and accommodation that was built on the school site”.

Schools Week also understands that the land and buildings in West Sussex that once housed Durand’s failed state boarding school project have now been sold.

But it is not known how much the sale made, nor how much will be retained by Durand Education Trust and how much will go to Van Gogh.

The boarding school closed in 2017 after the Department for Education withdrew its offer of more than £17 million in funding.

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