An Educational Innovation?

Posted on November 2, 2011


The failings of inner-city schools have long provided commentators and policy makers with subject-matter. They have been productive of guilt-ridden attempts at solutions. Last week, in The Times we read an article of interest on this topic. Greg Martin, Head of the Durand Academy, a primary school, has purchased a former boarding school in the West Sussex countryside.

The narrative runs that the Durand Primary School fitted into the category of the typical failing inner-city school. Martin was appointed Head and revived the school by focusing on concepts regarded for some reason as ‘traditional’: structure, discipline and routine. Rather than bemoaning the level of government funding, he took a more commercially-minded approach to increasing funds. Flats were developed on a portion of the playground area, then sold off or rented out. A swimming pool and gymnasium were built and opened up as a public facility in out-of-school hours, the sports pitches receiving the same treatment. This funded small classes and instruction in activities previously not available to the children, but it also financed purchase of the former boarding school in West Sussex.

The Former Boarding School in West Sussex

The purpose was to keep on providing the educational culture in which the pupils had been educated at secondary school level. The work and values instilled at Durand were not sustained by local secondary schools which the children would attend after leaving Durand. Martin concluded that the solution was to establish a new secondary school which almost all pupils from the nine-hundred strong primary school would attend. A traditional boarding school routine would be provided Monday to Friday, the children staying the week and spending the weekend at home. The same commercial approach to generating income from facilities when unused would cover the cost of boarding.

Education has suffered over recent decades from a seeming fixation on attempting to reinvent education. Methods of teaching which are tried and tested and have worked well for decades, if not for a century or two, have been dismissed as outmoded. To advocate ideas which are deemed ‘traditional’, such as strong discipline or teaching through direct instruction, is thought ‘elitist’. The establishment of the West London Free School, wherein the focus is on teaching academic and traditional subjects, is one example of a move against the orthodoxy of the educational establishment which has met such charges.

The following section from The Times article on the boarding school is emblematic of such thinking:


‘Martin, unfashionably, thinks that English pubic schools should be the gold standards for the State. Aren’t public schoolboys emotional cripples?

“No. They are rich and they run the world. They are taught, when it’s hard, keep working. They are taught to cope with the rigours of life in a structured environment. They have collective pride. I want that for all my children. It will change people’s world.”’


It is fortunate for ‘public’ and ‘private’ schools that a genuine culture of education has remained the norm. It is unfortunate for state schools that such a culture has been unfashionable. But those schools often improve dramatically with its re-introduction. Greg Martin has sought to emulate well-established teaching practices that work, rather than theorise and implement one flawed educational panacea after another.

Related Posts:

Posted in: Culture, Education