Durand: Sir Greg Martin accused officials of 'weaponising their powers' to attack school
The founder of an academy trust having its funding cut has accused a government minister and a top official of a “campaign of intimidation” against it.
Durand Academy's chair of governors Sir Greg Martin makes the claims in a series of letters published on the school’s site yesterday afternoon.
It follows the Education Funding Agency’s decision last week to withdraw funding after the academy refused to comply with its demands aimed at reducing potential conflicts of interest.
The letters reveal that Sir Greg wrote to education secretary Justine Greening on 29 July complaining the EFA chief Peter Lauener and schools minister Lord Nash set out on a “campaign of intimidation” against the school.
An unpublished report carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers into the trust’s finances found no wrongdoing despite costing the taxpayer “many hundreds of thousands of pounds”, the letter says.
It asks Ms Greening: “Are you going to stand by and let these unaccountable and privileged men continue to abuse the power given by the state, to try to destroy this highly effective and successful school?”
Another letter to Ms Greening, on 1 August, states that Sir Greg had aimed to base Durand’s free boarding school at the site of Stanbridge Earls, a boarding school in Hampshire that closed in 2014 after a series of claims of sexual bullying by pupils.
As TES revealed, Sir Greg recently appointed Stanbridge Earls’ former deputy headteacher, Grant Taylor, to become Durand’s head of boarding, while Mr Taylor is subject to a professional conduct inquiry.
The 1 August letter says Lord Nash and Mr Lauener “refused to buy the Stanbridge Earls site” and reneged on a deal to provide £17.34m to build Durand’s free boarding school, in order to “punish the academy”.
In April, the letters reveal, Sir Greg had written to the then prime minister David Cameron, asking him to intervene and saying that the EFA, led by Lord Nash, had launched "a series of attacks against the school, weaponising their powers".
Durand’s governing body wrote to parents yesterday, claiming that the school was “determined not to allow the actions of unaccountable, unelected civil servants damage the education of Durand children.”
The letter also said that Lord Nash and Mr Lauener had wrongfully tried to force Sir Greg to transfer assets held by Durand Education Trust (DET) back to the school.
DET was set up as a charity to hold “significant assets created by Sir Greg Martin’s building of the company from non public money” and cannot transfer the assets back because the academy trust does not own them, it states.
The letter also denied that there was any conflict of interest in Durand’s executive headteacher Mark McLaughlin also being a trustee of DET, and Sir Greg being chair of governors as well as a director at London Horizons, a leisure club run from the school site.
The EFA had claimed in its termination of funding notice that the academy trust had wrongly been charged for swimming lessons taken at the leisure centre during school hours.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Sir Greg said his businesses provided £600,000 to DET each year.
He vowed to stay at the school and fight the EFA's funding decision.
A DfE spokeswoman said: "Following much consideration we have advised Durand Academy Trust that we are planning to proceed with the termination of the trust’s funding agreement.
“A provisional notice of termination was issued to the trust on 4 July because of serious concerns about financial management and governance. That notice set out a number of requirements. The trust has failed or refused to comply with six of the eight requirements we set out to address our concerns.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly but it has been done to safeguard the future education of Durand's pupils and to ensure public money and public assets intended for the education of children are managed effectively”.