Troubled Durand Academy reopens as Van Gogh primary, but land issues continue

A London academy shut down by the government following a row over executive pay and potential conflicts of interest has reopened this week with a new name and sponsor, but part of its site remains in private hands.

Durand Academy was finally rebrokered to the Dunraven Educational Trust earlier this year after its previous sponsor, the Durand Academy Trust, had its funding agreement terminated by the Department for Education. The Harris Federation, one of England’s largest academy trusts, was initially lined up as a sponsor but pulled out, citing “risky legal agreements”.

After ditching its secondary provision and brand, the school reopened to pupils on Wednesday as Van Gogh Primary, with ex-Durand secondary pupils now all at different schools in the area. However, Schools Week has learned that only part of the school site has been handed over, as discussions over land ownership and the future of commercial leisure facilities continue.

It would make good sense for everything on the site to be under the authority of the trust in clear agreement with the other parties, but that’s not the priority and there’s no guarantee of that happening

The issues stem from the fact that part of the land on the school’s Hackford Road site is still controlled by Durand Education Trust, a separate private company set up in 2010 by former Durand executive head Sir Greg Martin and others.

London Horizons Limited, another company owned wholly by Durand Education Trust, founded a commercial health club on the site in 2004, and pumped extra cash into the school for improvements. The firm also paid Martin a second salary, taking his total pay to over £400,000.

Martin, who stood down as head in 2015 and as a director last year, is also no longer a director of Durand Education Trust. But the issues around site ownership continue, despite the school being under new management.

David Boyle, principal of Dunraven Academy and chief executive of the Dunraven Education Trust told Schools Week that “school buildings and the space that the school buildings occupy” were transferred to his organisation when it took over, but admitted there are still “ongoing discussions about who owns what” with regards to part of the site.

“The school is able to function without any difficulties,” said Boyle, who revealed a deal had been struck for pupils to use an all-weather sports pitch on the London Horizons land, but not the rest of the facilities.

Sir Greg Martin, once Michael Gove’s favourite head, drew a second salary from leisure facilities on the school site

“If we think there is an opportunity to give children access to some great facilities, then we will discuss that,” said Boyle. “In terms of the operation of the school, it would make good sense for everything on the site to be under the authority of the trust in clear agreement with the other parties, but that’s not the priority and there’s no guarantee of that happening.”

Boyle hailed a new beginning for the school after what he described as an “interesting” process. He says people have been “very supportive”, and believes it won’t be difficult for the school to move on, “as long as we can make good our intentions in terms of quality of education and experience of the children”.

“We’re trying to develop the sense in the community that the school is for them and is open and welcoming,” he told Schools Week, adding that the name change for the school was an important part of moving on from Durand’s controversies.

“We wanted to draw a line, and be clear that whatever comes next was different physically as well as in spirit. For too long the focus has been on things that have nothing to do with the education and experience of the children. We wanted to return the focus back to the most important things.”

Boyle doesn’t believe it will be difficult for the school to move on, “as long as we can make good our intentions in terms of quality of education and experience of the children”.

A Department for Education spokesperson confirmed that the land on which the Van Gogh Academy is situated “was transferred to Lambeth local authority on August 31 for leasing to the Dunraven Educational Trust”. Schools Week understands the Mostyn site, which now houses Van Gogh’s nursery and infant provision, also transferred without issue.

Schools Week attempted to contact London Horizons and Durand Education Trust.