The Durand Academy Trust’s plans to open the country’s first completely free boarding school in West Sussex quickly ran into controversy. The trust planned to bus 575 students from inner-city London to the new school in the South Downs National Park each Monday, and then bring them home for the weekend.
Former education secretary Michael Gove agreed to hand over £17 million in government funding towards the “exciting” project.
But, in a 2013 report, the government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, criticised this decision, saying that the Department for Education lacked “sufficient appreciation of the scale of financial and operating risk associated with the project”.
The scheme then had to be scaled back after opposition from local residents, and plans for 200 post-16 places were scrapped.
One Conservative parish councillor spoke out, saying he feared the project risked “spoiling a tranquil place” by “bringing Brixton to the countryside”, and he warned that a “sexual volcano” would ensue. The councillor resigned soon afterwards and Durand Boarding School did open.
But in June 2015, an Ofsted social care inspection resulted in the school being handed a “requires improvement” rating for safeguarding and health and safety reasons.
The school currently caters only for Years 10 and 11. A planning decision is pending on whether temporary classrooms can be built to accommodate Year 9.
From this month, the school was due to take part in a study with the University of Oxford to assess the impact of a later school start time on pupils’ behaviour and academic performance.