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Monday, 18 July 2016 00:10

Lilac Sky Academy Trust: The end of the Road

Written by
 Update: I have now published two subsequent articles, as further information has emerged. You will find them at (2) and (3).
 
I have now established that Lilac Sky Academy Trust is being closed down, as there is an investigation by the Education Funding Agency, on behalf of the Department for Education, into the Trust's financial practices. See new article
One of the very worst academy chains operating in Kent in my view, as illustrated many times elsewhere on this website is Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT), founded by Trevor Averre-Beeson, a champion of for-profit academies, in 2009. It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the Academies operation of Lilac Sky is to be closed down by the Regional Schools Commissioner, all the schools to be passed over to other chains, with parents being quietly informed on academy websites. The Chair of the Academy Trust has already gone, to be replaced by a new Interim Chair. 
 
LSSAT Logo
 
At present, I have only come across two other academy chains in the country that have had all their academies removed:  Prospects Academy Trust in 2014, in that case for poor performance; and Perry Beeches Trust earlier this year, for 'financial shortcomings'.
 
 
It is not yet clear what has encouraged the RSC to make the decision for Lilac Sky, but it could always have been the track record of some of the Trust's Leaders including those described below. Probably the worst examples of the Trust's operation in Kent were: at the now closed Furness Special School in Hextable, where the Trust was allowed to run up a £1.63 million deficit in the school accounts which was then paid for out of the budget for the remaining Kent schools, when Furness was closed, the school being replaced by Broomhill Bank North; and at Castle Hill Community College in Deal where under Lilac Sky tutelage, the school plunged from OFSTED Outstanding to Special Measures in less than three years....

Notification of Decision

There is a somewhat hidden reference on each school website to a letter informing parents from the new Interim Chairman of the LSSAT Board:

Hello, I am your new interim Chair of the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust Board, and I have only been recently taken up this role. I realise that my first letter to you all is about change, but it is important for you to know that this decision has not been taken lightly, but is an essential strategic move for the future. Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust has decided that in order to serve the needs of our children we should seek an alternative Trust to take over the running of some of our schools. We have worked with the Regional Schools Commissioner to identify strong multi-academy trusts (MATs) with capacity to work with us in order to commence a successful handover, starting September 2016. We will use the Autumn term to facilitate the formal transfer of our academies to these other Trusts.”

 

Actually this is not true as ALL Lilac Sky Academies are being transferred to other Academy Trusts "to serve the needs of our children!" One can only speculate on how the Regional Schools Commissioner feels the current needs of children have not been met under LSSAT. 

Thistle Hill Primary Academy, Minster in Sheppey, and the change of base for LSSAT headquarters.
The haste with which the decision to close the academies operation has been reached can be gauged by the previous decision to move the  move the Trust Headquarters to the Thistle Hill Academy on the Isle of Sheppey just a fortnight ago on 4th July, according to Companies House.  This may be because the Principal of Thistle Hill, Vicky Averre, was also a founder member of Lilac Sky Schools (a Private profit making Company providing Services for schools, current sole Director Trevor Averre-Beeson), and a Director of the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust.  She is also a Director of the newly created Nekadma Trust, planning to open a new Free High School in Barnet.  It may also explain why the name of the Principal of Thistle Hill Primary Academy is often missing from school documentation, if she is caught up with Trust matters, but presumably she will now leave the Academy after just a year because of her closeness to LSSAT. 
Thistle Hill
 
Swale MP Gordon Henderson was featured on BBC this week expressing puzzlement  at the decision as he only attended the formal opening of the academy a month ago! One wonders, given her close links with Lilac Sky, whether the Principal will be in Post in September, having set the new academy up to the Lilac Sky philosophy over the past year. The other eight academy Principals must be looking over their shoulders, as several are quite inexperienced and Trusts taking over schools have a tendency to put their own people in at the top.  

A statement from the Trust on the BBC Website reads: "Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust has decided that in order to serve the needs of our children we should seek new partners to take on the running of our schools. We are also working closely with the principal of each school, as well as the new trusts, to ensure that the children's education is not disrupted. All of the schools will finish the academic year as planned and be able to reopen for the new academic year in September." Of course it is not true that Lilac Sky has found new partners. The new Trusts taking over the schools will be completely independent of Lilac Sky whose interest is being terminated. The statement also confirms the changeover is to happen in September. Quite why LSSAT feels that abandoning its pupils to another Trust at such short notice is in their interest is not explained, although it may well be right.   

A subsequent bald notification on the LSSAT website with no preamble or explanation states: "Lilac Sky Schools’ Academy Trust Board of Trustees are working closely with the DFE to transfer the nine primary schools. This was clearly a very difficult decision to make, but was done so in the best interests of the children. We are also working closely with the Principal of each school, as well as the new trusts, to ensure that the children's education is not disrupted.  All of the schools will finish the academic year as planned and be able to reopen for the new academic year in September". No explanation of why the decision was made whatsoever, no regrets and indeed the schools are not even identified! It is as if they could not care less, which perhaps is too near the truth. But perhaps they read my comment above on their media release to the BBC and have removed the reference to partners!

Lilac Sky, Kent County Council and Furness
A few years ago Lilac Sky was very close to KCC, and indeed Kent’s Director of Education Quality and Standards moved across as Lilac Sky’s Managing Director in January 2015, although like many of their senior staff, she did not last long, and five months later had been airbrushed out of the Lilac Sky website. Meanwhile at the KCC Meeting to close Furness, Kent’s Executive Director of Education praised the Trust FOUR times, also writing to me demanding that I withdraw allegations he wrongly claimed I had made about the relations between the two organisations.  He also wrongly claimed the Headteacher of Furness, Jill Howson, was an experienced SEN practitioner, presumably having been misled as she had no SEN background, which may well have played its part in the failure of the school. A Lilac Sky name that pops up regularly when looking at Lilac Sky schools is Steve Benyon, formerly Chief Executive of the Isle of Wight Council, who left under controversial circumstances. At the time the Council was looking to outsource parts of the IOW Education Service to KCC, to be overseen by  Sue Rogers, a former IOW headteacher who was linked with his job after he left, but instead joined Lilac Sky. He followed on shortly afterwards,  his name being linked with various of the LSSAT schools, such as Richmond, Furness and Waltham Cross Primary at different times. At Furness he came in to support the existing staff with teaching techniques, and also offered career interviews to staff when the school was being closed down. Oddly, his is another name which appears to have vanished from the LLSAT Web site.  
 
 
Martello Grove Academy and Turner Schools
Following through from the previous paragraph, the head of Furness, Jill Howson, moved to the new Martello Grove Primary School, in Folkestone in July 2015, abandoning Furness to its fate before the end of term but, I see from newsletters, was replaced around 6th June, an odd leaving date (subsequent comment: she moved from here to be Consultant Headteacher at Rosh Pinah Primary School in North London, along with Philip Bunn and Angela Gartland, see below). The academy is being handed over to ‘Turner Schools’ along with Morehall Academy, also in Folkestone. There is little information available about this  new organisation, but see below. I have quite reasonably been asked if I know what will happen at Martello Grove as the new buildings are not even finished. The school website informs us that: "We are preparing for our academy to open in outstanding facilities and with our teaching team focused on striving to provide the best possible education and learning environment for our pupils, assisted and led by our sponsor trust, LSSAT. Martello Grove Academy opened in September 2015, being based at Morehall Academy whilst our new building is being completed in Warren Road, Folkestone. Our positive, friendly staff team work alongside the highly experienced team supplied by our sponsor trust, LSSAT to ensure high levels of achievement and success from the outset." Actually if you look at it carefully the last sentence, like so much of Lilac Sky speak is a logical nonsense! I guess the new buildings, constructed to suit the Lilac Sky philosophy will be finished and simply given to the untried Turner Schools (see below) who will have to bend it to their own unknown ideas. Sorry. I wonder if Turner Schools has the empathy to provide proper support for the SEN Autistic Unit set up at the school. Too many Academy Groups simply want to get shot of SEN children as they do not contribute to success. 
 
Turner Schools
There is scant information about Turner schools on the Internet, although there is now a single page website, with a profile of the Directors, accompanied by a typical set of aspirations, suggesting this is being developed on the hoof. A profile of the founder reads: “Jo Saxton, Ph.D. is founder of Turner Schools, a new MAT dedicated to improving outcomes in East and North Kent, and is a Trustee of NSN, the charity that helps people set-up new state funded schools. Until recently Jo was Chief Executive of Future Academies, the MAT chaired by Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, and Jo remains a Director of the Trust”.  The only other reference I can find is about Turner Schools registration at Companies House as a Private Company, as recently as March, but a letter to parents states it is also a  Charity.  There is as yet no indication as to whether they want the piggy-back approach of a 'related party transaction', the profit making company that sometimes accompanies academies.  This gives the list of seven Directors, much more high powered than most, which also includes: Professor Carl Lygo, Barrister and Vice Chancellor of BBP University, regularly asked to defend the Private Sector in HE and leader on Private Enterprise; described as Britain's first 'for-profit' University Dame Sue John, previous Outstanding Headteacher, having held directorships at the DFE, Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders, currently Executive Director at Challenge Partners and secondary Director of the London Leadership Strategy (responsible for the massive hike in London school performance); Sarah Richardson, previously Lord Mayor of Westminster, and Cabinet Member for Education, overseeing the transfer of Westminster's schools to become academies.  She is currently involved in a number of academy and academisation schemes. William Etchell, also BPP University. Surprisingly, their company application simply contains a copy of the generic form for new academies, even to leaving in the template. Turner Schools has also been reported as being interested in taking over the controversial Spires Academy in Canterbury. The DfE Website does not identify them as a potential or actual academy Sponsor yet, because they run no other academies and presumably this application has not yet been formalised. It looks as if they are bidding to become a major Kent player!
 
Staffing and Services
I have previously looked at the backgrounds of a number of senior Lilac Sky staff and too many have a record of failure in previous schools, perhaps being fortunate that Lilac Sky had subsequently picked them up. These include current Chief Executive Officer, Chris Bowler, and current Director of Learning, Annie Donaldson, who were both suspended from Langley Academy in 2011, and left the school shortly afterwards to join Lilac Sky.  She was Executive Principal at Marshlands Academy in Sussex, when it was given a pre-termination warning because of unacceptably low standards ( A new Executive Head was to appointed for August - now with no school to go to!).  The role of Executive Principal was explicitly criticised. She was also Executive Principal at Knockhall Academy in 2015 and earlier this year. It now appears that this recruitment and rotation policy may have contributed to the failure of the Trust. Talking to Furness staff at the time of the closure, it was very clear that, like a number of the more commercially minded Academy Trusts, Lilac Sky was providing a number of lucrative services for the school without apparently being questioned by KCC. Most if not all of the LSSAT schools require uniform bought from a single supplier from Nottinghamshire, Price and Buckland, who write: “We pride ourselves on providing unrivalled range of primary school uniform and sportswear, with fresh new styles and bespoke finishes. To me 'bespoke' bespeaks expensive, although no prices are on show. This sole supplier approach is heavily criticised on a variety of government policies, but is seen by some academy chains as a profitable source of funds through commission. The standardisation of Academy Websites allows generalisations to be posted across the chain but also creating gaping holes, for example in staffing and Local Governing Bodies lists.
Compnanies House also records that latest accounts are overdue, but the most recent published balance sheet of the Lilac Schools Trust shows a net worth of £26.5 million up to March 2014, within its three years of operation, so it does not look as if shortage of money is a problem! These figures include income for the year 2013-14 of £16.4 million transferred from Local Authorities on academy conversion, for the four academies then run by the Trust. The Trust Accounts also provides information on the 'related party transactions' with Lilac Sky Schools Ltd, wholly owned by Mr Averre-Beeson and Mrs J Fielding, co-founders of the Trust. This shows that they took a total of £809,723 out of LSSAT in 2013-14, the latest year which accounts are available for: Central Services; Support and Leadership of the Academies; and Supply of Senior Staff. At the time there were just four academies in the Trust! What is not present in the accounts, which is a legal requirement, is the remuneration ranges for senior employees. Perhaps it is no surprise that latest accounts are overdue, and this may be relevant to the closure. 
 
 
Back in 2012, Mr Averre-Beeson, founder of Lilac Sky urged that: "many of the 1,310 primary schools and 107 secondaries deemed underperforming could be "transformed" by companies such as his own, as for-profit firms are more focused on improving a school than a new headteacher would be".  Could it be that one possibility is he has made his profits and has now decided to take them, except, why the haste!
 
Castle Community College, Deal
Lilac Sky were heavily involved, assisting KCC, during the decline of Castle Community College from OFSTED Outstanding to Special Measures., but failed somehow to stop the rot. Headteacher Philip Bunn, who joined the school in 2011 at the peak of its performance, left suddenly in April 2014, shortly after the school was plunged into Special Measures in March 2014. However, he was clearly not to blame for the debacle, for he was subsequently hired by Lilac Sky as one of their four sponsor appointed Trust Board Directors, as Lead for Safeguarding and  is now "an executive coach to a number of Headteachers and senior leaders, as well as being a consultant leader on Lilac Sky’s Outstanding Teacher Diploma Programme."  According to Companies House, he resigned from the LSSAT Board, with effect from 1st July 2016, along with the Chairman, Angela Gartland, two other Directors having resigned earlier this year, and the founder, Trevor Averre-Beeson in 2015.  He has now linked up with Angela Gartland, Jill Howson and Vicky Averre, at Rosh Pinah Primary, a Jewish School in North London, whose Chairman of Governors is behind the bid to start a new Free School, via the Nekadma Trust, which also has Jane Fielding, Co-Founder of Lilac Sky as a Director.
 
Knockhall Academy
After LLSAT was displaced from Essex, apparently because of the failure of one of its secondary academies and refusal by DfE to allow it to set up a Free School, it somehow attracted three million pounds to allow the Trust to set up its headquarters at Knockhall Academy in Dartford, and to offer a range of new educational facilities. This was to take place in 2015, but a letter on the academy website this week confirms the academy is being transferred to the Woodland Academy Trust from Bexley. One wonders about the fate of the Principal, who had previously had a series of senior posts in struggling Essex secondary schools.  I haven’t found any further reference to the new building schemes and the move from Essex to Thistle Hill clearly cut out Knockhall completely. . 
 
Other Lilac Sky Academies
In Kent, Thistle Hill Primary and Richmond Primary both on the Isle of Sheppey are to pass to Stour Academy Trust, see letter.  When KCC asked Lilac Sky to manage Richmond before the take over, presumably their due diligence found that Principal Annie Donaldson (see above) was a suitable appointment. There are also four primary academies in East Sussex, Hailsham and Newhaven, new build one form entry academies opened in September 2015, White House Academy new build one form entry primary opened September 2014; and Marshlands Academy, served with a Government Pre-Termination Warning in November 2015, because of unacceptably low standards.
 
Lilac Sky Academies Trust and the Regional Schools Commissioner. 
The website Schools Week reports that three LLSAT Advisers have been appointed "to help regional schools commissioners (RSCs) drive up standards. They will be called on to help 'deliver the department’s aim to ensure high educational standards'. The DfE aims to appoint as many contractors as possible to the pool, but only those who are assigned by RSCs are paid. The contract states bidders must be “high-calibre-contractors with a proven track record in developing and leading outstanding schools and/or multi academy trusts”.  With five of the nine LSSAT academies less than two years old and, being purpose built, these represent an enormous capital investment, the Trust clearly having had a recent vote of confidence by the RSC who will have awarded the contracts, it is even more bewildering why all children in LSSAT schools are so soon afterwards deemed to be better off with another Trust! The News Week article goes into further detail about the Tabor Academy, that failed so badly under LSSAT management in Essex last year, that the Trust was also stripped of running a new primary school in Chelmsford to be opened this summer.  
 
Why Lilac Sky?
From the Lilac Sky Academy Trust Website: "Lilac is perceived to be an aspirational and creative colour and as one Ofsted inspector commented when visiting one of Trevor’s London schools, lilac is a 'feminising' colour recognised by educational psychologists to calm and focus children, (particularly boys) and create a zen like state of educational utopia"
 
 
 
Read 14797 times Last modified on Saturday, 29 October 2016 12:14

8 comments

  • Comment Link Sunday, 09 October 2016 10:51 posted by Daff

    Vicky Rezaie/Averre-Beeson must be wonderwoman! ;-) Not only was she a headteacher, but played in band - http://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/1275223.heading_for_america/

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 02 August 2016 13:48 posted by Concerned

    I note that N King a member of the RSC board is now a director on The Lilac Sky Schools Trust board as well as Chair of The Greenacre Academy Trust. Could this be the RSC at work?

  • Comment Link Saturday, 23 July 2016 20:43 posted by Concerned too

    http://www.lssat.co.uk/media/1032/chris-bowler.jpg

    This man is CEO of LSSAT, and decided that the commute from his home was too much for the 1 day a week he was expected at Furness School in Hextable. A flat on site was fitted out with white goods for his benefit (rent free). He spent two nights there.
    A friend personally witnessed his usefulness however.
    As a teacher at the school told me he never even spoke to her even once, but she did witness him taking the lid off a difficult pot of humous, the day the school got the news they had come out of sm!
    PETER: I have heard most of this story too from different sources, but not about the humous!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 23 July 2016 12:50 posted by S Clark

    Waltham Holy Cross Primary School was very fortunate in having a Governing Body, and therefore having some budget left. During the period that Furness School was under the control of Lilac Sky Schools there was no governing body.
    There was an Interim Executive Board appointed by the LA.
    The IEB (as stated in their minutes) seemed to have NO PROBLEM with the increasing budget deficit being regularly reported.

    Sadly Furness closed with a budget deficit of over £1.6 million, even after coming out of special measures due to the hard work of an incredible staff team.
    Coming out of special measures had little to do with LSS. The financial situation....?

  • Comment Link Friday, 22 July 2016 20:14 posted by A friend of WHXP

    For your information: Lilac Sky was at Waltham Holy Cross Primary in Essex while they were in Special Measures. The school did come out of special measures in June 2015 under their leadership. However it was the work of the dedicated Leadership team which still exists at this point in time that really drove forward the removal from special measures, rather than any measures that had been in place with Lilac Sky. In fact the Lilac Sky Head Teacher at the time was only in school for about 1-2 days in the last term and 2-3 days in the term previous to that.
    It was the current school leaders that did all the hard work to get the school out of special measures.

    I dislike mis- reporting of facts.

    And actually THEY SPENT ALL THE SCHOOL BUDGET during their time in the school, which has left the school in serious quandaries about the budget they have left to spend - thankfully not in deficit due to some judicious comments made to the Governing Body while Lilac Sky were still in place by the people that were aware of their 'spending culture'.
    The school is going to take a long time to recover from the 'Lilac Sky Experience' PETER: Why does this story sound reminiscent of Furness? How many others to come out of the woodwork? See - http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/11032148.New_team_brought_in_to_save_failing_school/. Vicky Rezaie as was, who first became a HT aged 26, is now running Thistle Hill.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 21 July 2016 08:52 posted by David

    What is the evidence that it was closed BY the RSC? PETER: In the public domain none. Plenty of circumstantial evidence though: (1) The great haste in which it has happened, Plenty of evidence for that in the article; (2) the total failure of the company to offer any explanation whatever of why this rushed decision has been made; (3) the refusal of the RSC to publicly comment on whose initiative this is; (4) No explanation of why a sudden change of ownership of nine academies is in the best interests of the children. Why would any organisation, a month after moving its headquarters to one of its own academies, in the area where they are all located then suddenly of its own volition, get rid of them all. (5) the fleeing of Trustees from the Lilac Sky Board. Five of the schools are in new build or in the process of being built as acadmies for Lilac Sky, the children not even had a year of them.
    None of this makes sense unless something catastrophic has happened. Allegations of financial impropriety have been made. I have no evidence and so cannot comment on the likelihood of this as the reason, although feel free to provide me with another. I have asked Lilac Sky but they have not acknowledged my enquiry. For the media, also , they have only responded via the bald statement reproduced above.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 20 July 2016 20:29 posted by Neil

    any idea what will happen to the LS Academy still under construction in East Folkestone and due to open in September? PETER: My assumption is that it will be completed according to the Lilac Sky specification and philosophy, and then Turner Schools will adapt it to their own needs. See update on my article about Turner Schools to gain a clue as to their approach.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 19 July 2016 07:19 posted by Concerned

    Regarding why rsc is looking in to Lilac sky schools.....some staff have been told it's due to
    ???????? (PETER word removed)... Sorry can't offer more or want to give my name. Please look into it!

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