A government decision to give a planned state boarding school in the heart of the Sussex countryside £17 million to set up will come under attack from a senior headteacher today.
The school dubbed “the Eton of the state sector” has the enthusiastic support of Education Secretary Michael Gove although questions have been raised over its financial viability.
However, Roy Page, chairman of the State Boarding Schools Association, will tell his annual conference this afternoon that the award comes at a time when existing state boarding schools are being forced to teach their pupils in crumbling buildings dating back to the 15th century.
Mr Page, headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, will attack ministers for a “lack of vision” as to how they can support existing state boarding schools while handing out millions to “an organisation and headmaster with no experience in boarding”
They are ready to pay for training staff but neglect the buildings.
“We may end up with wonderfully trained staff in buildings collapsing around them, with boarders running for cover and prospective parents - and Ofsted inspectors - frankly horrified,” he will say.
“For two years now we have been seeking clarity and security from the Government concerning capital investment in the fabric of state boarding schools. We are in dire need of it.”
All of this is in stark contrast to the decision to hand the Durand Education Trust £17 million “no questions asked” to set up the new boarding school in the village of Stedham, West Sussex, which will take in secondary school age pupils from Stockwell in south London.
He said the funding decision had been “quite rightly” queried by the Commons public accounts committee and public spending watchdogs the National Audit Office.
The Sussex scheme is to be financed jointly by the Department for Education and the Durand Education Trust, set up by the Durand Academy - an existing primary school in Stockwell whose pupils will be able to transfer to the new boarding school. The trust earns income from a health club, swimming pool and residential property near the primary school. The scheme is the brainchild of Sir Greg Martin, head of the primary school.
Earlier this year, Mr Gove’s department was censured by the NAO with its head, Amyas Morse, saying the proposal lacked “sufficiently robust estimates of the financial risk of the project”.
A summary of the NAO’s investigation sent to Chris Wormald, the Permanent Secretary at the DfE, said: “At the point which it decided to confirm funding (for the project), the department lacked sufficient appreciation of the scale of financial and operating risk involved”.
Melvyn Roffe, a former chairman of the SBSA, said the sum set aside for providing a boarding school education - “1, 100 per pupil - was “ludicrous”.
A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “Durand is an innovative and inspirational project which has enormous potential.
“The decision to fund this school is part of our commitment to allow good schools to expand and closing the unacceptable attainment gap.”