I can now confirm that Lilac Sky Academy Trust (LSSAT) is being investigated by the Education Funding Agency, on behalf of the Department for Education, into its financial practices. The Trust will be closed on December 31st, only the third Trust nationally I can find that has been shut down in this way. My previous article sets out the background to the story, anticipating this development. Knockhall Academy, one of the nine LSSAT primary schools in Kent and Sussex, is transferring to the The Woodland Academy Trust on 1st January 2017, and a letter sent out to parents yesterday (1) & (2) confirms the investigation and closure, adding significantly that "any monies due to the school will be recovered", I have also been sent by Turner Schools, the new sponsors of Morehall and Martello Grove Academies in Folkestone, a copy of a letter to parents that provides more information about the new organisation than was available in my previous article.....
The formal handover will take place on 1st January 2017, so the Autumn terms will be very interesting as both these new sponsors say they will be working with Lilac Sky to ensure it is school as usual from September. The explanation on the LSSAT website that "This was clearly a very difficult decision to make, but was done so in the best interests of the children", now looks yet another lie, as it is becoming clear that the DfE has forced the Academy to jettison its schools, so no decision to make. One can only speculate how much the new sponsors can rely on Lilac Sky to assist in the process of transfer, with staffing being central. The Woodland Academy Trust, as an existing Trust considers it can use its staff flexibilities to solve any problems.
I was sent the letter about Knockhall by a worried parent, who wrote: "Thank you for helping to expose the goings on at LSSAT. My children attended Knockhall Academy - their experience there was terrible. LSSAT turned Knockhall from a happy KCC school (doing OK in SATs etc but not doing what OFSTED wanted) to a very unhappy place for staff and pupils alike. I could go on and on". The Woodland Trust letter to parents underlines the high staff turnover at Knockhall under Lilac Sky. Unfortunately, this experience is not unique, and all government appears to be able to offer is that when such situations arise, they will take action. Unfortunately, having ruled that new academies are not to be inspected for three years from conversion or opening, this is far too long in a child's life for such a bad experience to last. In this case, it appears to be financial irregularities that have forced the issue, rather than children's futures - get one's priorities right!!
Surely, someone in the Regional School Commissioner's Office should have noticed the evidence I have quoted in my previous article and should never offered these nine academies to Lilac Sky in the first place. The Knockhall letter is particularly revealing, referring to monies that should be recovered by the school from Lilac Sky. However, much of the lost money could have been spirited away into another Lilac Sky Company, and may be irrecoverable after LSSAT is closed. Certainly, my recent article about the Dispatches Programme, " How School Bosses Spend Your Millions" provides a number of clues as to how it can be done. It is doubtless no co-incidence that the Woodland Trust letter emphasises: "The Finance Director of the Woodland Academy Trust will strictly control payments made by the school." However, the problems remains that there is no guarantee that such promises are meaningful - the LSSAT website is littered with similar idealisms.
Thistle Hill Academy and Richmond Academy, Isle of Sheppey
Amazingly, whilst Knockhall, Morehall and Martello Grove parents have received letters and had parent's meetings to explain the changeover, at Thistle Grove there appears a pretence that all is going on as normal! The school produces a weekly newsletter, but not even the final one on the last day of term, 26th July, mentions any change of sponsor, but trills over the fantastic year the school has had. It does however, have a 'date for your diary' with Stour Academy Trust' in September. Richmond Academy has a different, minimalist approach to its website. No newsletters, little information, but under "News", just a brief summary of the week's events. One Puzzle is a section entitled 'Lead Inspector', which leads to a blank page. What can it mean? Tucked away at the bottom is a bland "LSSAT News Update", which links to the misleading generic information: "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", completely baffling without context.
Kent County Council and Furness School
I am sorry to harp on about the following, but when I suggested that Lilac Sky were ripping KCC off over the Furness School debacle, I was told by the County in no uncertain terms that the Trust was doing a great job, helping the school to its £1.6 million deficit. Sadly, it appears I was right but I am guessing there is no way to recover any of this money even now there is growing evidence of financial irregularities.
This news will also be a great embarrassment for government, which has championed the growth of Multi-Academy Trusts. Earlier this week, I was asked by Radio Sussex if what is in effect a battle of attrition may be a good thing as poor Trusts go to the wall, to be replaced by better ones. In no way should children's education and futures be used in this way, but no-one in power appears interested in the damage done to children's futures, as gold-diggers continue to prey on the education service. Sadly, there is not even evidence that academies as a whole are doing a better job than maintained schools. If you saw my interview on BBC SE you will know how angry I am about all of this preventable blot on the education service.
One important question for parents is new school uniform and the letters from several academies set out sensible ways forward to ease the transition. The Woodland Trust which recommends that new school uniform only needs to be purchased as the old wears out, but it "can be purchased through various retailers including supermarkets" surely a sensible approach for all primary schools, as distinct from Lilac Sky's sole supplier. for Turner Schools, no change in the first year but: "We may, however, ask you to iron or sew new logos on the pockets of the school blazers (and will organise a group sewing bee coffee morning at school to do this together)". No information for the other two Kent schools.
Rosh Pinah Primary School This is a Jewish Primary School in North London, which may be far away from Lilac Sky Territory, but a recent letter from the Chairman of Governors throws up some familiar names: "Effective September 2016 our Executive Head Teacher Phil Bunn will take on the substantive responsibility for running the school with the continuing support of Mrs Gartland who will become Associate Executive Head Teacher. Jill Howson from Lilac Sky Schools will be joining the school on a part‐time basis as Consultant Head Teacher". All three characters pop up in my previous article on Lilac Sky, the first two having resigned from the LSSAT Board earlier this month.