How the mighty fall

Fiona Millar's picture

So another of Gove's heros has fallen. Sir Greg Martin, one time head of the Durand Academy, fawned over by politicians on both sides of the political divide, and a man at the centre of a complex web of edu- companies and financial transactions, has been forced to sever all links to the school whose funding agreement has simultaneously been terminated by the DFE.

And not before time. There is barely room here for a detailed narrative of how one man managed to profit so extensively from the academy programme. The network of companies and charities, at which he has been at the centre for the past six years, is still proving extemely difficult to disentangle.

A  National Audit Office report in November 2014 raised concerns about the Education Funding Agency’s weak oversight of conflicts of interest and financial transactions between the Durand Academy Trust, several other companies in which governors and trustees were involved and a separate charity, the Durand Education Trust, which owns the all the school’s land and buildings (including a boarding school)  as well as a health club, swimming pool and residential property on the London site .

 The Public Accounts Committee subsequently heard that Sir Greg Martin had also registered a dating agency at the school’s address and received management fees in excess of £160,000 a year from one of the private companies which ran the leisure centre. This was in addition to his annual head’s pay and pension package of £229,138, making him one of the highest paid executive heads in the country.

Having been trawled over by both these bodies the Durand situation was  referred by the Department of Education to the  Charity Commission, whose investigation has been going on for over a year and still appears unable to unpick the mess.

I have been following the school's fortunes since the Coalition came to power, latterly focussing in particular on a boarding school annex that Durand has set up deep in the Sussex countryside - another of M Gove's pet projects. You can see  these two Guardian pieces here and here

In a letter to the then PAC chair Margaret Hodge before the last general election, the Department for Education permanent secretary Chris Wormald admitted that neither the Durand Education Trust or the Durand Academy Trust had provided sufficient evidence about how the Sussex site was purchased in the first place. 

There must now be a huge question mark over the future of this project at which pupils, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, were enrolled without the certainty that the site could be developed to accomodate them

Maybe we will never understand the Durand empire in full. What we do know though is that the EFA appears to have lost control of how public money was being used in the financial transactions between all the Durand interests.

We also know that  Michael Gove's judgement yet again appears to have been deeply flawed. Though this week especially, we probably don't need to be reminded of that.


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Doug1943's picture
Mon, 04/07/2016 - 13:03

"The Public Accounts Committee subsequently heard that Sir Greg Martin had also registered a dating agency at the school’s address "!!!!

Well, that's bold thinking for you! I think it's called "synergy" in the business world.

What next ... a 'glamour photography' studio premises so the kids can earn some extra money posing?

Please tell me you're just pulling our legs on this one!

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 04/07/2016 - 13:06

Nope - it is all there in the articles I have linked to. Margaret Hodge, when chair of the PAC, did an excellent job of highlighting all this. Received quite a bit of press coverage at the time - well a dating agency would , wouldn't it? But the point is really about these related party transactions which are made much easier by the creation of academy chains and trusts. There is much more of this that doesn't make headlines when the linked companies are doing something more prosaic .

The NAO report very interesting on how that was done at Durand.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 04/07/2016 - 13:12

Doug - a short summary of Sir Greg Martin's appearance at the Public Accounts Committee is here.  It asked what linked school admission criteria, pixies and a semi-nude.  You'll have to read the article for an explanation.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 04/07/2016 - 13:09

Many heads once heavily praised by Michael Gove, pushed to national prominence and who, in some cases, were rewarded with gongs for services to education, have since been criticised for their financial management:  the subject of this article, Sir Greg Martin (Durand), Liam Nolan (Perry Beeches), Sir Peter Birkett (Barnfield Federation), Patricia Sowter CBE (Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust),  Sajid Raza (Kings Science Academy) now on trial for fraud (Gove was accused of sitting on the EFA report about Kings for several months).

This fulsome praise casts doubt on Gove's judgement.  This, along with criticisms I have made in the last week - his flip-flopping; his role as Macbeth to his wife, the allegations of treachery, the many instances recorded on this site of Gove misleading the electorate, his black-and-white view of the world, all make him unsuitable to be Prime Minister, especially one who is expected to lead delicate negotiations in the coming years.  

PS  This article re Perry Beeches (here) also contains links to financial criticism of  Cuckoo Hall, Durand and Barnfield (scroll down).  Details of fraud at Kings Science Academy and possible cover-up by Gove is here.

agov's picture
Tue, 05/07/2016 - 13:38

What all this? It's as if this is turning into an education website.

Perhaps Frank Field's comment

is pertinent here -

“Here you’ve got a clever, clever educational entrepreneur. It’s a pity he’s allowed himself to take such extraordinary rewards because people don’t focus on the brilliance of the school he’s running. He’s let himself to be painted as a money-grabber.”

During the disastrous Blairite period, which inevitably turned Labour into, as near as damn it, an ex-political party, there was a time when the education world was being encouraged to separate the role of headteacher (i.e. the teacher primarily responsible for teaching standards in a school) from the role of chief executive (i.e. lead manager) of the organisation.

Perhaps part of the difficulty with the academy programme is the general assumption that the headteacher should also be the CEO of the Trust. Given that betrayed former Labour voters are unlikely to be voting Labour any time soon or ever, perhaps the model of some edu-businesses of, in effect, adopting the wishes of New Labour and removing headteachers from executive positions in the concern is actually the most realistic way forward.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 06/07/2016 - 08:19

agov - thanks to the link to the eye-opening article.  Sir Greg painting himself as victim of the 'educational establishment'.  No mention of the complex structure he set up which included a separate charity, Durand Education Trust, currently being investigated by the Charities Commission.   Sir Greg, attempting to pre-empt the Charities Commission report (dismissed as 'whatever the Charities Commission comes up with') by commissioning an 'specially-commissioned auditor's report' (who paid for this?  Was it taxpayers who've already paid for Durand's marketing campaign and Sir Greg's libel court case?).

The 'brilliant' school was downgraded to Good and the boarding school, a once-derelict building described as 'Eton for the poor' because pupils play rugby and chess, and do 'prep', hasn't been inspected yet.

You're right about the focus from education as a public good to an edu-business which opens the door for schools to be run for profit began in the Labour years.  The Policy Exchange document, 'Blocking the Best', published shortly before the 2010 election, said Tony Blair was in favour of for-profit schools.  And you're right that having heads as CEOs (and also taking on the role of accounting officer) can result in conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement.

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