The Labour MP Margaret Hodge has attacked spending £17 million on the country's first free state boarding school. However she has refused to raise her concerns directly with those behind the project. Under Labour the average cost of a new secondary school was £25-£30 million. The new school would offer a fantastic opportunity for 600 children to reach their full potential. The boarding element of the cost would be met by the Durand Education Trust.
All the state is paying for is the normal cost of opening a new school followed by the normal per pupil funding. The extra costs are being paid by the Trust. Of course there will be rigour to show that the scheme is viable. The final business case has not yet been sent in to the Department of Education. As those behind it already run a school with fantastic success that gives them credibility. But if Lady Hodge has concerns about it why doesn't she talk to the school?
Sir Greg Martin, the headmaster of Durand Academy, has given a sharp response:
I was disappointed when a member of my team called your office yesterday to request a copy of the letter you had written about Durand Academy’s boarding project, to be told that letter was private. If so, I’m not sure how it made it into the hands of every national newspaper in the country – most curious.Thankfully, a journalist shared it with me, so I wanted to take this opportunity to reply quite openly.
Despite the National Audit Office’s work to look into the Durand Academy project and your lengthy letter setting out your view, neither you, nor the NAO have ever sought to get in touch with the school. We have not been asked any questions about the project; you have not asked us to explain our model; and you have not sought to understand how our current sites operate.
In fact, we have never been contacted by either party, with the exception of a note from your office in January 2013 when you declined our invitation to come and see the school for yourself.
If you would have accepted our invitation back then, you would have seen that as well as a revolution in standards, over the period that I have been at the school, we have also expanded and transformed the school estate, at no additional cost to the public purse, delivering exponential value for children and the tax payer. In 1999 Durand absorbed a local school in special measures, investing £2.7 million of our own money in its redevelopment, so that it sits today as a specialist Early Years Centre for 3-7 year olds, with its own swimming pool. We know how important those formative years are and we have worked with the Rt Hon Frank Field MP and Liz Truss MP to support their work in this area.
We also constructed 46 key worker apartments, a gym and refurbished our main school buildings, with the revenue from the flats and leisure facilities helping us to fund our continued school growth and development. Last September we invested a further half a million pounds to create a Middle School, so we can now educate children at the secondary age up until 13 years old, giving them continuity in approach and continued momentum in learning, underpinned by an extended day and rich and broad curriculum.
Finally, we have already invested more than £2 million in a site in West Sussex so we can educate our intake right the way through to adulthood, helping them to reach their full potential. The Middle School is flourishing and we know that these children, who typically have been the ones to fall through the net before GCSEs, can go to the best universities or become the most skilled workers.
The boarding school project is innovative and different; there is no doubt about that. But it is also a chance – for a school that has already self-funded £8 million pounds of education infrastructure – to offer more children, even greater opportunity. We are very happy to supply all the detail you wish to see in the full Business Case, which, in line with the project framework and standard procedure, is finalised after planning permission is achieved.
We have every confidence this project is going to be a tremendous success, and hope when it is open you may reconsider our invitation.
Until then Mrs Hodge, I remain disappointed that you have not made any effort to get behind this project, nor understand it, and that your private letter has been so widely circulated, with the exception of myself or the Governors of the school. Our door remains open and I would be delighted to show you around.