Durand Academy has scrapped plans for a sixth form at its controversial countryside boarding school for students from inner city London, TES can reveal.
The Stockwell school may be a favourite of education secretary Michael Gove, but its plans to bus hundreds of teenagers from the capital to a new boarding school in a mock Tudor mansion in the South Downs have come in for plenty of criticism.
Earlier this month, the National Audit Office criticised the Department for Education’s decision to hand over £17 million in funding for the project. It had, a letter from the NAO’s head Amyas Morse argued, “lacked sufficient appreciation of the scale of financial and operating risk association with the project”.
Previously, the scheme had been described by residents as a “white elephant in a national park” – and one councillor courted controversy by claiming that “bringing Brixton to the countryside” would result in a “sexual volcano”. He has since quit his position.
In the latest twist in the saga, it has emerged that the school has decided to remove a proposed sixth form from its planning application. This is expected to reduce the school’s capacity from 575 to just 375 – although Durand insists that it will add a sixth form on the site in Stedham, West Sussex, at a later date.
It remains to be seen how this will affect the school’s funding arrangements, but the fact that the school will be delivering – initially, at least – a substantially smaller number of places than originally agreed will be seen by its critics as adding fuel to the concerns raised by the NAO.
Executive head Sir Greg Martin told TES: “As there is further work to be done on the design and specification of the sixth form boarding houses we have decided – in close consultation with South Downs National Park Authority officers – to remove them from this first phase of works. However, we are still committed to delivering a sixth form for Durand’s intake longer term, in line with our all-through vision.”
Sir Greg also hit back at the Stedham residents opposed to the new school. “While a minority of individuals – like a neighbour who is a property developer with vested interests, and a former councillor who was racist – try to derail the project, we are delighted with the many messages of warm and uplifting support we have received from local people in the past weeks and months.”
Durand still intends to open the boarding school in September 2014 in line with the original plans