Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Council Trumpets about the 'White Elephant' in the Room: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Council Trumpets about the 'White Elephant' in the Room: News

Article excerpt

It warns of 'ill-conceived' plans for first free state boarding school.

The bid by inner-city London primary Durand Academy to open the first completely free state boarding school in the country is nothing if not ambitious. It will bus hundreds of teenagers from one of the capital's poorest boroughs to a mock-Tudor mansion in the South Downs National Park every Monday morning. They will, according to Durand, receive "the highest level of academic, physical and personal development throughout the week", before returning home on Fridays.

Education secretary Michael Gove has even agreed to hand over Pounds 17 million towards the "exciting" plans. But TES has learned that two years before the school in Stedham, West Sussex, is due to open, it could be about to run into major problems. The parish council of Woolbeding with Redford, where the school will be based, has warned that Durand has "significantly underestimated" building and running costs, and fears it could be left with a "white elephant in a national park".

The school is now expected to have a headcount as much as 40 per cent lower than originally planned. The approved bid was for a 625-place 13-18 school. But Durand's director of education, Greg Martin, told a parish meeting that it is "much more likely" to end up with around 500 pupils. He also warned that if there was insufficient demand for post-16 places it could scrap the sixth form altogether, reducing the school's capacity to 375.

"We can speculate as much as we want, but at 16 children will have a choice about whether they stay with us for sixth form," Mr Martin told the meeting. "If the sixth form's not viable ... we wouldn't do it. It's as simple as that."

The boarding school is expected to cost Pounds 22.34 million, with the Department for Education paying Pounds 17.34 million over four years and the Durand Education Trust - the charitable body created to deliver the project - providing the remaining Pounds 5 million. …

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