Durand boarding school closes down at Stedham

Sir Greg Martin speaking to the first students at Stedham in 2014
Sir Greg Martin speaking to the first students at Stedham in 2014

The beleaguered free weekly boarding school on the former St Cuthmans site at Stedham has closed down after a three and a half year battle by the Durand Academy to build new facilities for inner city children.

Sir Greg Martin, chairman of governors of the Durand Academy Trust (DAT) told the Observer: “Sadly we have decided to close the boarding school because the Education Funding Agency (EFA) wouldn’t give us the money they promised.

“We went on for three and a half years and tried our hardest. A dreadful campaign was waged to get the school closed. They stopped us getting planning permission and starved us of funding. It has been a shocking betrayal of the children.”

Parents were told in a letter from the school governors on Tuesday July 25 that they had been ‘wrestling with a number of difficult decisions, one of which was the boarding school’.

Governors said they had consulted with school staff to try and come up with ways to keep it open and fill a funding shortfall which is believed to be in the order of some £500,000.

“Sadly they, like us could not find the required saving and as such we need to make the painful and very difficult decision to close the boarding school.”

Parents were told: “The fault does not lie with the governors for this painful decision, it lies with the Education Funding Agency.”

The trust has not received the £17.4m for the boarding school promised by the government which was dependent on receiving planning permission. The EFA has now also issued a notice of intention to terminate its funding agreement next June and take over the London academy.

Sir Greg said the DAT had paid for the Stedham site and for a £1m revamp of the existing house in order to start the boarding school. It had been hoped to ‘draw down’ from the £17.4m but the support had been withdrawn. He said the DAT planned to fight a legal battle over the termination of the funding agreement.

There were, he said some 19 members of staff at the Stedham site. He hoped some could be redeployed in London but there were some who lived in the Stedham area who might not want to move.

There would, he said, have to be some redundancies.

The school was home to 70 year 10 and year 11 weekly boarders. The year 11s have now completed exams. Year 10 pupils would complete GCSEs in London, he said.

Campaigners against the boarding school said their fears about its viability had been proved right.

Alasdair Nagle, local resident and member of the St Cuthman’s Campaign Group said: “The local community knew from the start this was an ill-conceived project in entirely the wrong location. Our fears about the viability of the boarding school have proved correct. In addition to the waste of taxpayers’ money, I feel most sorry for the pupils and their parents who have been misled all along by the school’s management.”

Fellow campaigner Adrian Hearle added: “I am very angry at the way Durand try to blame everyone but themselves for the failure of this deeply flawed project. In the letter to parents, they accuse the EFA of not releasing any of the £17.4m funding but fail to mention the reason was because Durand did not deliver on its side of the funding agreement to obtain the necessary planning permissions. The St Cuthmans site was always inappropriate for such a large scale greenfield development and if Durand had only spoken to the planners before purchase they would have realised this.”

Sir Greg has refuted this saying the promised £17.4m government funding was never conditional on planning consent being obtained at Stedham.

“The EFA offered to buy another site, near Portsmouth and could have as the £10m offer was accepted, but they pulled out at the last minute for no good reason. In fact they only made the claim about planning being part of the £17.4m offer when they decided to destroy the hope and aspirations of many children and parents.

“Had they not, then the boarding school would be thriving. It’s my belief they simply didn’t want us to succeed. The people who claim it was ill-conceived are simply wrong. We met all our agreed obligations. The EFA did not.

“The people who campaigned against this great project should feel ashamed of themselves, not likely I know.”

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