Durand Academy School Paid PR Firm PLMR £152,000 Last Year For Mention In Parliament

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The school paid PLMR to secure mentions in parliament and visits from Gove.
The school paid PLMR to secure mentions in parliament and visits from Gove.

A primary school paid a political media company more than £351,000 over three years to manage its public relations and ensure it was mentioned in parliament debates.

Durand Academy in Stockwell, South London drafted in Political Lobbying and Media Relations (PLMR) in 2009, and the PR firm's managing director, Kevin Craig, has been a governor of the school since November 2010.

The trust owed another £12,455 to the company at the time the accounts were published, which are for the academic year ending 31 August 2011, according to The Guardian.

The paper reported the school paid PLMR, whose clients include the Ministry of Sound, T-Mobile and British Horseracing Authority, £152,000 last year for its services.

From April 2009 to March 2010, the school paid a teaching supply service £123,345 to "provide professional supply teachers to ensure highest standards are maintained at all times". For the same period PLMR was paid £107,333.

In June 2011, the state-funded primary came under fire for spending nearly £200,000 on employing the services of PLMR and Carter Ruck lawyers, better known for representing celebrities, to sue its local council Lambeth for libel.

At the time, Emma Boon of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "Schools should be focused on educating the next generation, not on reputation management."

But PLMR has made efforts to separate business and pleasure. On acceptance of the governor position, Craig wrote a public letter to the Durand Academy Trust, which read:

"My happiness and willingness to serve as a governor are totally unrelated to the fact that the company that I work for has since 2009 worked for Durand on fundraising, public relations and coalition building support in support of your plans for the school. Were PLMR's work to end tomorrow I would remain as enthusiastic and as passionate about the honour of being a governor as I am today."

Michael Gove visited Durand in September 2011, his second visit to the school in less than a year, saying it was a "huge pleasure" to visit the site one year after it converted its status from a foundation school to an academy.

He touted the institution as a role model for other academies: "The ingredients which make Durand a success have been applied elsewhere across South London.

"What has been achieved here is inspiring – and underlines how, thanks to great teaching, our young people can achieve anything."

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The school, which Ofsted deemed "outstanding", has gained support not only from Gove but also the Rt Hon David Laws MP, the education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, as well as Vernon Coaker MP, a former school's minister.

Sources in the profession say it is unusual for schools to employ the services of a political lobby company, if not unheard of.

On its website, PLMR say its employees "worked closely" with the school to ensure its profile was raised politically, including developing a political relations campaign.

"Politicians from every political party visited the school from local ward councillors, to shadow ministers, the secretary of state for education and the deputy prime minister."

In April 2011, possibly as a result of the campaign, the coalition agreed to co-fund the boarding school project - a secondary school providing accommodation for Durand's junior school pupils when they reach 13-years-old.

The school recently secured £17.34m to fund the new building but questions have been raised over the figures, with claims the Durand Education Trust has incurred debts of £1.9m through purchasing the boarding school site.

PLMR, who won an advertising award for its work with Durand, said public funds had not been used to pay for the school's political lobbying.

"We can be comfortable that public funds are not being used to pay for services, such as lobbying, that would be unusual or in any way controversial," a spokesperson said.

The school's executive head Greg Martin told The Huffington Post UK the boarding project would not have been delivered without PLMR's support.

"Their team are working flat out to help us drive the project forward and broaden the educational horizons for inner city children.

"When we achieve that and show that the association between income and attainment does not have to persist, it will have been worth it. When we see a Durand student, who grew up on a tough estate, going to Oxbridge, it will have been worth it.

"And when that child graduates and passes their high aspirations and sense of pride to the next generation and the one after that, it will have been more than worth it."

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