Durand Academy in South London is a primary school that has been singled out regularly for praise by the government and press. The Education Secretary has visited 21 primary schools since 2010, but Michael Gove liked Durand enough to visit it twice. He is on record as saying that he is ‘a great admirer of Durand school and its head teacher’.
However, publicly available accounts show that this positive press was not earned on pure merit, but was helped along by aggressive lobbying.
The latest accounts for the trust that runs Durand Academy in Stockwell, south London, show it paid £152,812 to Political Lobbying and Media Relations Ltd (PLMR) – a London-based firm that boasts of its connections to politicians of all parties.
PLMR insists that public funds had not been used to pay for their political lobbying but that their fees had instead been paid from the proceeds of various commercial ventures. They also downplayed their role in securing access to and support from the government for the primary school, although they admitted that securing positive mentions in parliament and explicit governmental support was part of their brief from their school.
“It will come as no surprise that the school does not have the time or resource to manage all of these processes, while they are focusing on delivering an outstanding education to 1,000 children in the UK’s biggest primary school,” a spokeswoman said. “There are many services we supply that are common expenditure items for most schools – ie website copy writing and design, photography, printing etc. and would be regarded as a normal use of a school’s admin budget.”
There can be little doubt of the success PLMR has had in raising the profile of Durand Academy, securing positive press and access to key ministers such as Michael Gove. They have lived up to the promises made on their website:
“We know politics and government. We know media. We know how to get planning permission.”
Many will question whether it’s fitting that a school should be able buy this kind of preferential treatment and whether this ‘bought coverage’ unfairly influences public opinion as to whether the academy experiment has been a success.