All schools should make cash out of their land, says former 'superhead' in funding row

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A former “superhead” who profited from building a leisure centre on school grounds has urged all London schools to generate money from their estates.

Sir Greg Martin — once known as Michael Gove’s favourite headteacher — made millions of pounds for Durand Academy in Stockwell by building a private gym, swimming pool and flats on the site.

Pupils get free swimming lessons and subsidised after-school clubs, music lessons and lunches. But Sir Greg also took a cut from the venture and questions have been raised about his earnings and the ownership structure under which the school was run.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) is now axing Durand’s funding amid concerns about financial management and governance. Sir Greg, who retired as head and is now chair of governors, is fighting the decision in the courts.

The school recently won a legal battle with Ofsted over an inspection report that would have placed it in special measures. A High Court judge quashed the report.

Today Sir Greg called for other schools to follow his model: “[At Durand] children swim for free. Key workers live in London which wouldn’t happen otherwise. Classes are small.  There are subsidised after-school clubs, lunches, free music. Unquestionably I’d say to other London schools to do the same.

Michael Gove at the school in 2011 (JAMES EMMETT)

“Why don’t other heads do this? If I can do it why can’t they? Durand is a model of how to do it, how to use the grounds.” He said it could be a solution for schools facing funding cuts, but the complex business arrangements have been criticised by MPs.

Durand Academy Trust runs the infant and junior school in Stockwell and also ran a boarding school for older pupils in West Sussex, which has now closed after facing a funding shortfall.

Durand Education Trust owns the land on which the schools are built and the Academy Trust runs the schools on a licence from it. Sir Greg was a director of both trusts — and also of the firm that ran the leisure centre. He took 15 per cent of the profits from the leisure centre on top of his headteachers’ salary, making him one of the highest-paid heads in the country. The Commons public accounts committee heard that in 2013/14 Sir Greg was paid a £175,000 management fee  from the company on top of his £229,000 salary and pension package as head of Durand.

The EFA said the trusts and businesses had not been clearly separated. However Sir Greg insisted the EFA approved all the arrangements and despite the row he would do it all again. He claimed the business venture had made the school about £17 million, benefiting every parent with about £5,000 each year in subsidised activities.

“Having drive and energy and entrepreneurial spirit to generate further income for the benefit of the state is no bad thing,” he said. “I hear weekly wailing and gnashing of teeth from schools [about lack of funding] but we have created a model which makes £600,000 to £700,000 a year for the benefit of the children. It is a great asset for the benefit of the state sector, and for that we have been roundly criticised be-cause I got paid for doing that work.

“If I went to any school and said, ‘I can transform your school, put you in the top two per cent, build you a business worth millions that you can keep, and have 85 per cent of the profit — but you do have to pay me,’ would you not snatch my hand off and say, ‘When can you start?’ That’s what I have done.”

Academies Minister Lord Nash said: “We have confirmed to Durand Academy Trust we’ll be terminating its funding agreement, giving 12 months’ notice. It follows multiple breaches of its funding agreement and a failure or refusal to … address concerns about financial management and governance.

“We will begin the process to transfer the school to a new sponsor to safeguard the future education of pupils.”

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