Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

MPs to Probe Price Tag of State Boarding School: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

MPs to Probe Price Tag of State Boarding School: News

Article excerpt

Scheme for inner-city pupils will receive Pounds 17m of public funds.

Bussing teenagers out of inner-city London to a new boarding school in a bid to improve their attainment is a bold experiment. And with Durand Academy in South London receiving more than Pounds 17 million of public funds to carry out the project, it is not cheap.

Now, before it has even opened, the school is to come under intense scrutiny from MPs, who will judge whether the money is being spent wisely.

The probe follows fierce local opposition to plans for the boarding school, which will be located in a mock-Tudor mansion in West Sussex, in the South Downs National Park. Opponents have said that the school will become "an embarrassing white elephant of wasted expenditure".

After being sent information by the parish council in Woolbeding with Redford, where the school will be located, the Public Accounts Committee - a group of MPs tasked with ensuring that the government achieves value for money in its spending - has agreed to investigate.

Committee chair Lady Hodge has asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to look into the Department for Education's decision to provide more than three-quarters of the funding for the school, which is due to open in September 2014. The Durand Education Trust - the charitable body created to deliver the project - will stump up the remaining Pounds 5 million.

In a letter to the parish council's chair, Lady Hodge confirmed that the NAO will investigate whether the Department's "investment decision" was in line with "relevant guidance", was "based upon an appropriate level of review" and "included clarity by all parties on the risks of the transaction".

The parish council has argued that Durand - a school highly praised by education secretary Michael Gove (see panel, right) - has "significantly underestimated" the cost of the project.

"There are so many gaps in the existing evidence that the project presents a high risk of becoming a bottomless pit for rescue funding and ultimately unsustainable, leaving the newly created South Downs National Park with an embarrassing white elephant of wasted expenditure," said Ray Smith, a member of the parish council's advisory group on the project.

A planning application to develop the site of the former St Cuthman's School in Stedham is expected to be submitted shortly.

Every Monday as many as 575 students from London will be bussed to what has been described as the first completely free state boarding school. …

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