The controversial Durand Academy Trust has hired an external campaign consultant as it begins a battle against a forced takeover by the Harris Federation.
The Department for Education announced Harris as its preferred sponsor for the south-east London-based primary academy last November, after terminating the troubled trust's funding agreement due to a string of financial and governance concerns.
Durand has now launched a campaign on a dedicated website, which states: "Whilst we respect what Harris have achieved elsewhere in London, we don't believe this decision will allow Durand to continue playing its unique role in the community.
"Instead, we are urging the Department for Education to allow us to seek a partnership with the outstanding Dunraven Academy; a move supported by teachers, parents, pupils and our local MP. "
The academy has started a change.org petition urging the DfE "to allow Durand to remain a local school, serving the best interests of local children". At the time of writing, it had 140 signatures.
It has also hired an external "campaign consultant". The consultant confirmed to Tes he is not carrying out the role on a pro bono basis and is not a parent, but did not disclose his fees. The trust has previously attracted criticism by spending significant sums on legal and public relations, while complaining of being "under-funded".
As well as linking to the petition, the campaign site features a template letter to academies minister Lord Agnew, urging him to explore Durand's proposed partnership with Dunraven, a primary also based in Lambeth.
Caretaker steps down
Separately, Tes has learned that Brendan McShane, the primary school caretaker who was paid at least £100,000 by Durand Academy last year, has stepped down from his board director role.
Before the DfE decided to withdraw Durand's funding, it had demanded that none of the trust's directors were also on the board of Durand Education Trust (DET) – the charity that owns the land on which the school sits.
But Mr McShane became a director of DET last October, meaning he sat on both boards until his resignation as Durand Academy Trust director last Wednesday.
However, this may have come too late to affect the DfE's decision about the future of Durand. The DfE this week confirmed that Harris is still its preferred sponsor – and Harris has already advertised for a principal for Durand which it intends rename as Harris Primary Academy Stockwell and says will open in June.
An important issue yet to be ironed out, Tes understands, is who will own the land at the primary school's site in Hackford Road, Lambeth, which was transferred to DET in 2010 and contains a leisure centre and an accommodation block.
According to a 2016 Charity Commission report, the leisure centre and an accommodation block are used by the academy both for educational purposes and "to generate income for DET to financially support the academy’s activities through commercial trading".
These on-site facilities were developed by Durand's former executive headteacher Sir Greg Martin, who was paid nearly £400,000 in a single year – a package that included pay relating to the leisure centre as well as his headteacher's salary.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are terminating the funding agreement with the trustees of Durand Academy following multiple serious breaches. Ministers have identified the Harris Federation, which is based in south London, as our preferred trust to run the academy from June 2018 when the current agreement ends. Harris has a record of providing outstanding education in London schools, especially for children from disadvantaged communities.
“The most important thing now is for the current trustees to work with Harris to ensure a smooth transition for pupils, parents and staff."
Harris declined to comment.
Durand had not responded formally to Tes at the time of writing.