Durand academy demands apology for comment about ‘urban children’

Durand Academy Executive Head Sir Greg Martin speaking to students SUS-141111-155708001
Durand Academy Executive Head Sir Greg Martin speaking to students SUS-141111-155708001

SCHOOL governors have demanded a public apology from the South Downs National Park following remarks it claims were unacceptable.

It is the latest twist to the plan by the Durand Academy for a weekly boarding school for inner-city children, which has been beleaguered by controversy.

School governors have lodged a formal complaint about remarks made during a 2013 meeting by Cllr Jennifer Gray.

She claimed ‘urban children’ were not interested in the countryside.

The meeting was debating the application to expand the Whispers building at the former St Cuthman’s 
site in Stedham, where 48 children currently board three nights a week. It was thrown out.

The school appealed against the decision, but pulled out last month. It is currently in ‘productive discussions’ with the SDNPA over a new application.

Vice-chairman of governors at Durand, Kevin Craig, said he was ‘utterly disgusted’ at the way a committee member handled the planning application.

He told the Observer. “I think those remarks are unacceptable.

“Our planning appeal was withdrawn in December and we are now able to speak freely – I want to know what the SDNPA proposes to do about this.

“Are they proud of these comments?

“Governors have long been waiting and expecting an acknowledgement and apology for some of the language used at this meeting, but we have heard absolutely nothing.

“I would like to register an official complaint and also register my shock that the SDNPA leadership not only failed to intervene during the meeting, but has made no attempt to right the wrong since this time.

“I put it to the authority that the comments made break the law, that they should have done something about it in the 12 months that have passed, and that it paints a disgraceful picture of a public authority.”

Mr Craig said the following was a transcript of Cllr Gray’s remarks: “I do think it is a wonderful idea, but you have to think these are urban children and urban children to my mind like the towns, they are not going to be suddenly transported into Sussex and told to love the birds and the bees and what have you, because they are whisked away again at the weekends, and I find that when I’ve had students to stay and they came from towns they were not in the slightest bit interested in the countryside which is a shame, but that’s actually what it is like.”

Cllr Gray declined to comment.

An SDNPA spokesman said: “The committee refused the application because the size of the scheme would have too great an impact on the landscape.

They also had concerns about the application’s failure to mitigate against the impact of the development on transport and other local services –such as fire and rescue.”

In relation to the complaint, SDNPA chairman Margaret Paren, said: “The SDNPA has a code of conduct for its members.

“Any complaints are taken seriously and if any issues are identified then necessary action is taken.

“We work with a variety of partners, urban and rural, minority ethnic groups, disability groups, urban fringe communities and over 750 schools to make sure all can enjoy this wonderful place.”