Exclusive: 'Underfunded' Durand spends more than £200k on legal fees

Academy trust's financial accounts say Durand was in talks with the Education Funding Agency over the termination of its funding agreement

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An embattled academy trust that is fighting the Department for Education's efforts to end its funding – and claims it has suffered "underfunding" – spent more than £200,000 on legal fees last year, its latest accounts show.

Durand Academy Trust (DAT), which operates a primary phase on two sites in south London, as well as a boarding site, St Cuthman's, in West Sussex, has been at the centre of controversy over the pay of former headteacher Sir Greg Martin (pictured), and concerns about conflicts of interest in its complex management structure.

It has had a long-running battle with the Education Funding Agency (EFA), which announced last October it was going to terminate Durand's funding agreement. The trust says, in its accounts for 2015-16 – published on the Companies House website today – that it has been underfunded by the EFA.

The accounts also reveal that DAT spent £209,911 on legal and professional fees in 2015-16, compared with £164,533 the year before.

Its spending on unspecified “other governance costs” increased to £233,818 in the same period, up from £94,102 the year before.

Trust 'still due money from EFA'

The accounts show:

  • The EFA reclaimed £791,280 from the academy between January and August 2016. This related to money paid to the academy by mistake in 2011-12. The accounts say: “This reclaim had not previously been provided for in prior years as it was felt there is underfunding still due from the EFA in respect of the expanding new years at St Cuthman's.”
  • The academy trust had a total revenue deficit of £1,207,334 last year, following the EFA reclaim and spending on school buildings. The accounts say its restricted and unrestricted funds had a cumulative surplus of £1,409,917, excluding the cumultive pension deficit.
  • The accounts note uncertainty about the academy’s future caused by the notice to terminate the funding agreement. The document says: “The academy will not be able to continue without this funding and is currently in discussions with the EFA with a view to settling this matter.”
  • Acting executive headteacher Mark McLaughlin was paid £145,000-£150,000 in 2015-16. DAT had paid his predecessor, Sir Greg Martin, who is now chair of governors, £200,000-£210,000 the year before. This did not include money Sir Greg was paid by a leisure centre that operates on the school site.
  • The sites at Hackford Road in London, and West Sussex, are owned by the Durand Education Trust (DET), and are leased informally by DAT for peppercorn rent. The accounts say formal leases for both sites were “in the process of being prepared” at the year end.
  • In November 2016, DET paid £1.8 million it had previously owed DAT, which was designated to fund the new secondary boarding school.

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