NB: This post is by Tim Hewish, Steve’s researcher.

I was delighted to learn that the Durand Academy has been successful in its request to set up a free boarding school for acutely underprivileged children in Stockwell, South London.

When Steve and I visited back in January, we were greatly encouraged by the transformational work all the teachers and staff were doing at Durand. Their passion was rooted in traditional principles of hard work, meritocracy and discipline. They were not afraid to simply teach, unencumbered from red tape and a burdensome and constricting national curriculum.

Although their journey has been far from smooth, courtesy of vested interests in the educational status quo that provides a substandard schooling, we are encouraged that Durand has been able to triumph against such resistance. One only has to witness the confrontation Toby Young has had to face with his own Free School to highlight how reactionary and out-dated Left-wing thinking is failing poorer students.

What we now have is a joint venture between the Government and the Durand Academy for the boarding school with the Department of Education committing up to £17.34 million over four years to contribute towards the capital costs while Durand investing the rest.

It is a testament to Michael Gove’s radical vision for school provision free from local authority control, parent-led, and needs-based.

Under the proposals, the children will leave Durand Primary School, at the age of 13, and board for four nights a week, free of charge to the parents. The first pupils will start to arrive from September 2012.

It will provide 375 boarding places for years 9 – 11, a proposed 250 places for post-16 pupils and they will be fed from the existing Durand Primary school, where almost half receive Free School Meals and more than 95 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Again, it shows how untrue is the utterance that Academies are white middle class ivory towers of elitism.

Even sections of New Labour are starting to get it. In certain quarters, the Free School idea is gaining traction and may well present itself as the best way to break the Left’s dominance of education. Just look at Peter Hyman, Tony Blair’s former director of strategy, who is setting up a Free School in East London with Lord Adonis’s backing.

The Left once thought the comprehensive system would create equality, but instead many of them have left children being taught to the lowest common denominator. What Academies provide is greater choice matched with the freedom for parents and teachers to decide what works best for pupils.

We wish the Durand Academy the very best of success with its project.


  1. Interesting and positive article. Re your comment “They were not afraid to simply teach, unencumbered from red tape and a burdensome and constricting national curriculum” What specific areas are they covering there that the National Curriculum currently restricts, Tim? As a local with sons at JHGS I value highly creative teaching that responds to needs of the children rather than conforms to pre-defined and idealogical dogma – think we have it there, but do I assume from your comment that you believe it’s in short supply generally??

  2. Thank you for your comments. I am also a product of the excellent JHGS teaching. I am indebted to many of the teachers at the school. I will not name names, but I can say that they made me challenge assumptions, tested my knowledge and honed my arguments. In my mind, they will never be forgotten. We are extremely fortunate to have Grammar schools in Bucks as a large number of the top teachers in the country come here to teach.

    As for my comments on the national curriculum, I understand the initial need to have a framework in place, but at JHGS there was always a culture of going beyond the basics. My real shock was attending university where there was a melting pot of different educational standards. A number of students merely recited the dogma that was taught from school and they rarely challenged or thought critically about a given situation or argument. Three years of Karl Marx and post-modernism can have a damaging effect on a student’s mental health!

    I take the view that there are certain ideological parameters in which certain teaching methods coalesce around, notably in the areas of the Environment, History and the wider Humanities. Often pupils are taught thematically, which I feel is a soft way to tackle tough and substantive issues.

    Durand operates outside the current set curriculum and large numbers of the teachers at the school have not completed a PGCE because they believe the training is not adequate and is based on tenuous social psychology as opposed to rigorous teaching methods. Much of the PGCE is located away from the classroom, whereas Durand’s approach is to fully immerse new teachers in the classroom with a mentor teacher who they report to each week with set lesson plans, which get scrutinised and improved.

    It is a sterling example of success in an area where failure is taken as the norm. Durand is a model that schools should look to follow.

  3. I wonder if you actually know anything about the PGCE. Trainees are obliged to spend two-thirds of their time on placement in schools, but according to you “much of the PGCE is located away from the classroom”. All PGCE students have mentors in schools, who routinely – because it’s a legal requirement – scrutinise and check their lesson plans. And far from “tenuous social psychology” the vast majority of the time at university on a PGCE is spent learning and absorbing the structures of the national curriculum and its associated legal frameworks – a Conservative invention, lest we forget.