What links school admissions, pixies and a semi-nude? The Durand saga continues.

Janet Downs's picture
 10
It’s not often there’s a link between the Schools Adjudicator, the little people and a near naked woman. It’s even more surprising when the link happens to be a high-profile academy chain.

The connection is Durand Academy Trust (DAT).

I’ll explain.

The Schools Adjudicator has censured DAT for its admissions criteria. The Adjudicator said prioritising children who attended Durand’s nursery school was unfair: children who weren’t in the nursery had a low chance of being admitted to Durand’s reception class.

What about the pixies? They appeared during a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) session about Durand Academy’s financial statements. Questions bounced back and forth. How much did Durand’s head, Sir Greg Martin, earn? What part did the private company London Horizons play? Why did Sir Greg set up London Horizons? Was it to avoid Corporation Tax? Was there a conflict of interest between Sir Greg’s role as Durand’s head and his role as director of the private company GMG Educational Support? Had land been transferred from DAT to DET (Durand Educational Trust)?

PAC member Stephen Phillips showed his exasperation:

‘The school transferred, without consideration and without receiving any money, its assets to another trust, set up for reasons that continue to escape me, of which you and all the other little Durand pixies were also directors.’

To clarify, if clarification is possible, DAT, an exempt* charity, transferred DAT assets to DET, a non-exempt* charity set up in May 2010 by Greg Martin (before he was knighted for services to education) and others (Stephen Phillips’ ‘pixies’). DET had inadvertently been removed from the Charity Commission’s list in August 2011. DET has now been re-registered: its accounts for the last three year were sent to the Commission on 12 January 2015. The 2010/11 director’s report showed DET had an income of nearly £17m because it had received ‘donations of £16,972,000, which included a property valued at an estimated market value of £15,000,000.’

Were these assets public or private? PAC wanted to know. And why were they transferred to DET? Was it to move the assets out of reach of the Secretary of State? asked the Chief Auditor.

Yes, replied Sir Greg.

But enough of legalities, where does Saffron come in? The lady with little clothing is on the Twitter account of The London Coterie, the members-only club set up by Sir Greg in September 2014. Margaret Hodge, PAC Chair, was not impressed:

‘You take yourself a generous slug of money, which we believe to be public money. You then find time — with your school having been seen as excellent but now only being rated as good by Ofsted — to set up a dating agency. When I looked, somebody called Saffron, who works on the Twitter account, was semi-nude with all sorts of black underwear all over the place. It seems deeply inappropriate for a head teacher to do that on premises where you are also conducting educational business.’

Sir Greg said it was a private enterprise and, in any case, he was no longer a director. Company House records show his directorship was terminated on 26 January, the same day as the PAC hearing. Saffron, the lady with skimpy undies, is a director of the The Coterie London and Companyfour, a private limited company set up by Sir Greg and others in January 2014 and originally registered at the London Horizons address, c/o Durand School. Sir Greg ceased to be a director of Companyfour on 2 February 2015. Saffron is also a Company Secretary at Sir Greg’s company GMG Educational Support.

Saffron seemed delighted by the publicity: ‘Even in Parliament they are talking about us,’ she tweeted. This prompted UK Education Matters to tweet:

‘The #PAC session with Durand looks good value. @SchoolsWeek tweets suggest Greg Martin and @margarethodge aren’t likely to date’.

*An exempt charity is one which does not have to register with the Charity Commission. Academies and free schools are exempt charities. The Secretary of State is the Principal Regulator for these. A non-exempt charity has to register with the Charity Commission. DET thought it was exempt because it was connected to DAT. But it wasn't exempt and DET shouldn't have been de-registered.

NOTE: The original headline was What links school admissions, pixies and a semi-nude?
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Comments

Linda Starkey's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 15:35

Janet, I read your missives daily.They fill me with horror, but having expected these things t happen when Blair started the process and fighting it all the way. Does any of it subsequently get reported in the press other than the ones you write up? Is there any legal basis of getting the property back when the Companies finally get exposed?And finally were you the ex Head of Haverstock? Linda


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 16:14

Linda - I never managed to become a head - or even a deputy. The highest I climbed up the ladder was 'assistant head of upper school (careers)' before falling right down to the bottom before I retired (got fed up with having an ever-growing pile of extra responsibilities with less and less non-teaching time to do it in, so resigned from the extra responsibilities to become just a classroom teacher again).

The Durand story above was covered in many papers - that's because of scantily-clad Saffron! Unfortunately, though, most papers just churn DfE press releases. Few investigate claims (FullFact and Channel 4 FactCheck, the Guardian, Private Eye, Schools Week and a few others do, but most go along with the Gov't because these papers support 'choice', loath comprehensive education, state education in general, teachers, the 'Blob' etc.

As for the assets which may or may not be in private hands (legal advice is being sought), we'll have to wait until the final PAC report.

Linda Starkey's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 15:36

my comment is above. LAS


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/02/2015 - 08:25

UPDATE: Durand Educational Trust is to be investigated by the Charities Commission. It's not an 'exempt' charity so the Commission can do so.

Academy Trust are exempt charities. This means the Principal Regulator is not the Charities Commission but the Secretary of State for Education. This raises the question about how the SoS can keep an effective eye on thousands of exempt academy trusts etc especially when it expects its monitoring arm, the Educational Funding Agency, to cut its costs.

According to the Independent, Durand welcomes the investigation saying its set up has benefited local children in a disadvantaged area. At the same time, though, the set up has proved personally profitable for some of those involved. And then there's the question about transferring land out of public ownership.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 21/03/2015 - 14:15

UPDATE Durand Academies Trust has been issued with a Financial Notice to Improve according to Schools Week.

The full notice from the Education Funding Agency is here. It notes that the Governing Body is proposing to replace Durand's principal Sir Greg Martin as Accounting Officer 'in order to reduce conflicts of interest'.



R Smith's picture
Wed, 27/01/2016 - 10:48

The following article shows how investigations into Durand are oddly bogged down. http://schoolsweek.co.uk/complexities-hold-up-durand-investigation/

 

Reference is made to 'complexities'


R Smith's picture
Wed, 27/01/2016 - 11:28

It is worth seeing this article by Fional Miller http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/dec/01/state-sector-eton-inner... , noting the many areas that 'require improvement' and comparing it with a story of another school, the London Academy of Excellence, following an entirely different model (non boarding) which has achieved remarkable outcomes for underpriviliged children seemingly with similar background to Durand's children. The central 'conviction' of the Durand experiment is that one needs to get children physically far removed from their communities and into a remote rural location as boarders to 'break the cycle' and achieve high educational standards. It was this founding 'conviction' that led first to the boarding school as a concept and then to the organisation structure, governance arrangements and costs that have proven to be mind boggling for the Public Accounts Committee, the DfE and seemingly now the Charities Commission. Not being an educationalist by background, I hope that this posting stimulates others in the Network to give this consideration. 



Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 29/01/2016 - 13:34

 

The success of the London Academy of Excellence may not be all it seems.  It was accused of dumping students it didn't regard as 'Russell Group ready' after their Y12 exams.  Any highly selective institution which then gets rid of pupils half way through their courses if it thinks these won't achieve top grades is likely to get results higher than schools which teach the entire ability range.


R Smith's picture
Fri, 05/02/2016 - 12:12

Janet's point is absolutely valid. Yes, applying such a process of selection can produce a kind of engineering of results. I am not personally familiar with the London Academy of Excellence and was not seeking to make a properly rounded comparison of the two schools. I wanted to simply to point out the weakness of Durand's claim that high achievement in secondary education depends crucially on getting children away from their communities and into boarding, under the wing of Durand, at a far away rural location. This has been a central assertion/belief behind their venture.


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