Regulator might open inquiry into academy school where a dating agency was once registered

Paula Sussex, chief executive of the Charity Commission, tells the Public Accounts Committee that it is moving towards opening a statutory inquiry into the Durand Academy Trust

Durand Academy, Stockwell
Durand Academy, Stockwell

The Charity Commission is considering opening a statutory inquiry into a charity associated with an academy school after it emerged that a dating agency in which the headteacher has a stake had been registered at the school’s address.

The Durand Academy Trust runs a primary school in Stockwell, south London, and a state boarding school in Stedham, West Sussex.

The two schools’ land and buildings are owned by the Durand Education Trust, which is regulated by the Charity Commission and has been the subject of an operational compliance case since October because of questions about its governance and potential conflicts of interest.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee heard earlier this week that Sir Greg Martin, the headteacher of Durand Academy, received almost £400,000 from his school salary and from income earned through running a leisure centre on the school’s site.

Appearing before the committee on Monday, Martin confirmed that he had earned £229,000 from the school in 2012/13 – a 56 per cent rise on the previous year – plus an additional £161,000 from being the sole director of a company called GMG.

GMG receives a fee for running London Horizons, a not-for-profit leisure and accommodation business that operates from the same site as the school and makes income that is returned to the academy.

A report by the National Audit Office on the Education Funding Agency’s oversight of the Durand Academy Trust, published in November, said there were undisclosed conflicts of interest at the school.

Martin was asked by MPs on Monday about his role in a dating agency of which he had been a director and which had been registered at the same address as the school.

Martin told the committee it was a private venture and he was disappointed that it had been brought up. He said the business was not being run from the school’s address.

The committee yesterday questioned Paula Sussex, chief executive of the Charity Commission, about the regulator’s actions on the case and whether it was considering appointing an interim manager to run the charity. Sussex said the commission was moving towards opening statutory inquiry into the charity.

If it opens an inquiry, the regulator will be able to use its statutory powers, such as appointing an interim manager or freezing the charity’s bank accounts.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, said that £500,000 of charity money had been taken, possibly for private gain. She asked whether the commission was looking at the legality of the payments and if it would ask for them to be repaid if they turned out to be illegal. Sussex said the regulator was looking into this.

Hodge also asked whether it was appropriate to run a dating agency from a school site, to which Sussex said it was "more than enough to raise one’s eyebrows".

Nobody from the Durand Education Trust responded to a request for comment from Third Sector, but a statement issued by Martin on the school’s website after the hearing on Monday said he had been pleased to get the chance to explain the innovative model used at Durand Academy.

"As anyone who has taken the time to visit and understand Durand will know, its success is underpinned by the private investment it receives from the supporting enterprise, London Horizons," the statement said.

"Not only am I proud of our record, but I believe it is absolutely essential that we don’t discourage innovation like this in the future. For me, it is all about driving aspiration and expanding choice and opportunity for children."

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