The Department for Education is embroiled in an escalating legal battle over the ownership of a leisure centre and housing at one of England’s most notorious academies.
Durand Academy in Stockwell, South London, has been at the centre of years of controversy about conflicts of interests and payments to its founding headteacher, Sir Greg Martin.
Lambeth Council had originally owned its land and buildings, which were transferred to a new foundation trust when Durand became a foundation school.
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When the school became an academy in 2010, ownership moved to a separate organisation, Durand Education Trust.
Durand Academy controversy
Last year, the DfE terminated the academy’s funding agreement and transferred the school to the Dunraven Educational Trust, which renamed it Van Gogh Primary.
At this point, ownership of the school’s buildings returned to Lambeth Council, but the leisure centre and housing on the school site, which had been used to raise additional income for the school, were retained by the Durand Education Trust, although the DfE said it was trying to win back control.
Now, the financial accounts of London Horizons Limited (LHL), the company that operates these facilities, reveal that the education secretary issued a direction on 22 May “requiring [Durand Education Trust] to transfer these assets to the local authority by 1 January 2020”.
The document says that the trust is fighting the order.
It says: “Whilst the trustees of DET acknowledge the direction from the secretary of state, they have taken legal advice throughout and they continue to challenge the position of the secretary of state.
“The legal argument will necessarily take some time to resolve”.
The news about the continuing dispute will reinforce concerns about the ownership of land when schools convert to academy status.
In February, Tes reported that the DfE did not know how many other academies were operating under funding agreements that completely relinquish public control of state school land.
Another document filed at Companies House confirms that the Durand Education Trust has changed its charitable objectives so that it no longer has to donate its profits to the school whose site it operates on.
In May, Durand Education Trust changed its articles of association so that its objectives were widened to “advance education for the public benefit and in particular the education of young persons under the age of 30 who are residing in, or who have resided with the London Borough of Lambeth”.