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Thursday, 08 February 2018 10:43

Goodwin Academy – SchoolsCompany Trust on the way out?

Update 6th April: events elsewhere in the Trust see 'Central Devon Academy' below.

Updated 15th February: see also comment below.

KM Online 16th February shows details of the job losses at this previously recovering school, expected because of the failures of SchoolsCompany. 

The new Interim Chief Executive of SchoolsCompany Trust has apologised in a letter to parents of pupils at the Goodwin Academy for ‘previous financial failings, which are unacceptable’.

Sadly, this has come as little surprise to me, as I foresaw issues as early as 2014, when I noted in an article that SchoolsCompany had contributed to the startling decline of the predecessor school Castle Community College (CCC), in Deal from Ofsted Outstanding to Special Measures in three short years. As a reward SchoolsCompany took over as sponsor of the school as recently as July 2016. The school was awkwardly renamed SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy, presumably to advertise the name of the Sponsors as a priority, above creating a new school image.     

The Academy limped on for a period, after 2014, with the 'support' of SchoolsCompany,  unpopular with a third of its places unfilled, and underperforming, although there have recent strong signs of improvement under new school leadership. Unusually, eight of the eleven Company Trustees were paid a salary by the Trust, hardly an inducement for encouraging scrutiny. After the school received a Financial Notice to Improvefrom the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in October, seven of the Trustees resigned including the Executive Principal of the Company This left the school with just four Trustees including the CEO and founder of the company, Elias Achilleos, although he now appears to have been replaced by the new Interim Chief Executive.  The Trust has demonstrably failed some of the Financial Notice's requirements for improvement. 

Goodwin Academy

The school will clearly have a future in its new £25 million premises opened four months ago on October 6th, just three weeks before Trustees resigned en masse, but it looks increasingly likely it will not be with Schools Company. Indeed a more than doubling of first preferences to 173 for 2018 admission, shows confidence in the school and its leadership, achieved without obvious input from the few remaining Trust members. 

SchoolsCompany Academy Trust
This Academy Trust was founded on three small Pupil Referral Units in Devon 2015, but is now losing control of them . It formally took over the Goodwin Academy in July 2016, just a year before being served with the Notice to Improve. The Trust was formed by Schools Company Ltd founded in 2011 by Mr Achilleos: ‘The company was created to build on our successful careers in teaching, managing and leading in challenging urban mainstream and alternative secondary schools, mainly in London and in schools across the UK, Although its early ambitions were to take on a number of academies, unsurprisingly it has not been trusted with any more, but the company is now establishing The Royal Academy for Construction and Fabrication in Nigeria.

The August 2016 Trust Company Report, the most recent published (2017 promises to look interesting) reports that
There are currently deficits across the Trust. Details of the deficit and the arrangements in place to resolve the position are included in Note 18’. Sadly, whilst Note 18 details £1.4 million of creditors, there is no mention of any arrangements to resolve the position as promised. My expectation is that the current position has come about because of the preparation of the 2017 accounts, which have not yet been published (but see Angela Barry, below).

The 2016 accounts list eleven trustees, eight of whom received salaries from the Trust of between £80,000 and £20,000. Just just two of these, the Executive Principal and the Executive Principal of the Devon PRUs had an education role, but the other six, who were supposed to be independent Board members of a charitable Trust must have a financial conflict of interest. The dominance of those on the Board who financially benefited from its activities would inevitably have reduced the level of scrutiny required, which has surely contributed to the chaotic outcomes described below.  Just four remained after the clearout in October 2017: Mr Achilleos who, in spite of the salary he took from the Trust, appears to be part-time with various other ventures underway; Mr Akhurst, Chairman of the Trust Board, and project manager for a building construction company; Mr Parmar, an education consultant; and Mr Rees, a Legal Partner at Price Waterhouse who, whilst independent, surely had the background to identify the issues (all unpaid).  The Trust completely failed the ESFA's requirement in July to 'immediately strengthen the Trust Board with RSC approved interim Trustees, no later than September 2017'  and there were also a long list of additional requirements. Since then the Chairman Mr Akhurst, Mr Parmar and Mr Rees resigned after the recent publicity in February 2018, leaving Mr Achilleos the only Trustee remaining from the eleven in place at the delivery of the Financial Notice in July.  Six new Directors have been appointed since November: Angela Barry (see below), Nikki King and Ian Baukham - Principal of Bennett Memorial School, trusted members of the Regional Schools Commissioners Team;  Rupert Gather; Thomas Maddison, an HR Consultant; and Steve Ward, a Consultant. See more about Board members below.. 

Financial Situation
The Financial Notice to Improve is scathing in its criticisms of the Trust Management,  concerns including: 'short notice and urgent requests for additional funding' and lack of 'the Trust’s response to this financial situation and this has been highlighted again by the failure to produce a recovery plan by the revised deadline of 17 July'. It continues by highlighting the Trust's failures: 'Failure to ensure good financial management and effective internal controls; Failure to have sufficient oversight over financial management and governance; Failure to take sufficient action to avoid the Trust’s current cash-flow deficit position; Failure to maintain and provide ESFA with accurate/robust budget forecasts; and Failure to meet the conditions of the additional grant funding as agreed in May 2016 and detailed in the grant letter of 21 June 2016'.  All in  all a damning indictment of SchoolsCompany's incompetence. Amongst the EFSA's stringent requirements are to: conduct an urgent review of all central trust income and expenditure to be incorporated in the recovery plan and submitted to ESFA by end of August; urgently seek independent verification on the closing position of the 2016/17 end year budget forecast position; implement action in line with the recovery plan to return the Trust to a surplus budget position during 2017/18; demonstrate that every possible economy is being made to achieve a balanced budget – this must consider the Trust wide SMT structure, service providers, curriculum provision and staffing costs across the four academies; provide an organogram of the central SMT staffing structure matching the current number of academies; and; provide the ESFA with monthly financial monitoring/progress reports mapping progress in these areas to work towards securing a balanced budget for 2017/18. Given this week's news, it looks as if the Trust has failed to met these conditions. These accounts record £398,013 paid out of Trust funds for Educational Consultancy. It is likely that most if not all of this was paid over to SchoolsCompany Ltd. There is also £52,904 paid over for governance, which appears a very high sum. Most accounts for Academy Trusts list the percentage of school budgets paid over to Central Services (to run Trust operations), commonly 5%. This figure is omitted from these accounts. In 2015, the Trust was running at an overall deficit of £36,649. For 2106, after Goodwin Academy joined the Trust, this deficit ballooned to £943,118, the £69,527 from Goodwin Academy to be sorted by a Recovery Plan agreed with the ESFA. There appears no plan identified in the accounts for the Central Funds of the Trust, running at a deficit of £243,205, down half a million pounds from the 2015 surplus of £249,447. There is no indication of where this money has gone. 
 
In 2013, one of Mr Achilleos' many companies, several others having been  set up last year with grand titles but no obvious activity, was declared insolvent owing £23,241 in unpaid tax. 
 
 The 2017 Accounts, anticipated in June 2018, should make interesting reading. 
 
Goodwin Academy
The Academy appointed a new Principal, Simon Smith in 2016, who has had a long career at the school and its predecessors. You will find an excellent history of the good side of these schools, written by a Year 12 student, Arran Powell, here. Castle Community College was led by an outstanding headteacher, Christine Chapman, who took the school to an Ofsted Outstanding in 2011, although she left shortly before the Inspection to be replaced by Mr Phillip Bunn. At this time the school was heavily oversubscribed, but after she left it went into sharp decline, whilst neighbouring Walmer Science College was running short of numbers. KCC decided to merge the two schools , controversially on the CCC side, so Walmer was effectively closed.  In March 2014, the school was placed in Special Measures, with Leadership and Governance being heavily criticised. An article I wrote at the time highlighted the responsibility of SchoolsCompany Ltd in the decline. That year the Year 7 intake had slumped to 127 with a PAN of 180, although it had also absorbed the children of Walmer. This year it is down even further to 108, which will have made a considerable contribution to the financial difficulties.  In 2014, the school had the worst GCSE results in Kent with just 20% of pupils scoring five GCSEs Grades A-C, but has improved on this, year on year. 
 
There is a school website
 
However, there are two pieces of excellent news for the school, the first being a complete rebuild for 2017-18. Secondly, and probably connected. the number of first preferences for admission to the school has more than doubled from 2017's 84, to 173 for 2018, nearly filling the school's PAN of 180, without second preferences being taken into  account. There will still be some loss through grammar school appeals, but this all looks very healthy. I have no doubt that it is not only the shiny new premises, but the perceived improvement in school quality under the leadership of the new head that has contributed to this. I doubt if it has much to do with SchoolsCompany, where the blame lies, which with the loss of three quarters of its Trustees has little to offer. 
 
Angela Barry
Angela Barry, the new Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Trust is by way of being a trouble shooter for the Regional Schools Commissioner, who has responsibility for academies in the South East. She is a member of his Headteacher Board, although retired from being CEO of a primary Academy Trust last summer. Followers of this website will know about her, as she performed a similar task for the infamous Lilac Sky Academy Trust (see below), until its closure in December 2016. 
 
 Lilac Sky Schools Ltd
This notorious company, which ran the now defunct Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT) has crossed the path of Goodwin Academy/Castle Community College (CCC) a number of times.

When it was in favour with favour with KCC (as was SchoolsCompany), they were advising on CCC as it plunged from Outstanding to Special Measures in just three years, probably the fastest fall from grace in Kent. They worked with Principal Phillip Bunn who oversaw the decline and was so impressed with his work that he became a Trustee of LSSAT and their Head of Safeguarding. He resigned at the time Angela Barry joined the Board as Chief Executive, one of her first task being to withdraw the false 2015 Company Accounts and replace them with an honest set, highly critical of previous management.

Until we have further information, one can only speculate what has been going on behind the scenes at SchoolsCompany, but the financial difficulties and actions of the RSC appear similar to some at LSSAT, where the Trust collapsed owing large sums of money. We can be fairly confident that Angela Barry will face up to the difficulties. 

SchoolsCompany Central Devon Academy
Although this article and website are focused on events in Kent, the Termination Warning Notice served on the Members and Directors of SchoolsCompany Central Devon Academy, is an important signal as to the future. The Central Devon Academy operates three small Pupil Referral Units, and became an Academy sponsored by SchoolsCompany in September 2015, the only bidders. This is the only other'school' operated by SchoolsCompany. 
 
The warning notes that 'an Ofsted monitoring inspection on 19th September 2017 found that safeguarding is ineffective. This was further evidenced through an Educational Advisor visit on 20th November 2017 leading to the removal of all KS4 pupils whose behaviour was putting at risk younger pupils and staff. As the Regional Schools Commissioner acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, I am not satisfied that the Trust can achieve rapid and sustained improvement at this academy, given the system failures identified by the deteriorating financial position which leaves the Trust with limited capability to support the academies within the MAT. As a result I have already brokered, in the short term, support for the Trust through ACE Plymouth' . 
 
In other words, as at Goodwin Academy, the money has vanished somewhere! I am told that the RSC will now allocate the Academy to ACE Academy Trust under the re-brokering, and anticipate something similar happening to Goodwin Academy.  you will find an article in the DevonLive News, published 6th April, about the scandal. 
 
SchoolsCompany Board Members (some)
Sarah Acland was Devon Executive Principal, succeeding Patrick Eames below in November 2015. She worked with the Devon AP service over 20 years and, I am informed, doing a wonderful job until she had the misfortune of becoming tangled up with SchoolsCompany, responsible for the financial mismanagement.  Another casualty of greed by a company intent on maximising its profits.
 
Patrick Eames had a professional background in AP and was appointed Executive Principal of the North Devon Units in 2015, for a year, when he became Director of Operations and Business Development at SchoolsCompany. 
 
Ray Lawrence was Director of Teaching and Learning  and Director of Data, Communications and Management Information Systems for Schools Company from 2016, during which time Central Devon Academy (a PRU otherwise known as Alternative Provision) failed an OFSTED Monitoring Inspection and has subsequently been removed from Schools Company. Before that he was Deputy Head of Futures Community College in Southend as it went into special measures, working for Stephen Capper (see Lilac Sky); and Principal of Al Jazeera School in Qatar. He has now been appointed Head of the Olive AP Academy in Havering despite having no other AP experience, after the Trust carried out 'an extensive recruitment and selection process'. 

 
 
 

Last modified on Thursday, 26 April 2018 16:18

6 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 22 May 2018 18:49 posted by Susan Bates

    I see now that effective 18 May, 2018, Elias Achilleos has 'resigned' as CEO of Schoolscompany Trust. Wondering when the details will come out...PETER: Thanks for that. I presume he will not be held accountable for the damage caused during his time in office.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 19 April 2018 18:45 posted by Catherine Penny

    How do ex-directors that caused so much hardship land on their feet?
    Ex SchoolsCompany director Teaching and Learning...

    http://www.oliveacademies.org.uk/ray-lawrence-appointed-as-new-headteacher-at-olive-ap-academy-havering/ PETER: No doubt they feel proud, having carried out an extensive recruitment and selection process to have appointed a director of an OFSTED failed Alternative Provision Trust, which has now been taken away from the SchoolsCompany Trust because of its serious failings, including financial mismanagement (code for extracting money out of the Trust), quality of education being provided, health & safety, etc.. Sadly even this is not the worst example I know, look at the meteoric rise of some of the failed Lilac Sky heads

  • Comment Link Saturday, 17 February 2018 12:21 posted by Goodwin parent

    PETER: please note this is a different Goodwin parent to the previous comment! COMMENT BEGINS: If Mr Achilleos can set up six companies in 2017 as you report, and a trading College for fabric design in Nigeria it is hardly surprising he has let the trust crumble.

    The question is, is it negligence, incompetence or something more sinister.

    Who is investigating: Charity commission; Regional Schools Commissioner; Education Skills Funding Agency; Kent County Council; Our Member of Parliament who has previously supported SchoolsCompany, Charlie Elphicke; the East Kent Mercury? PETER: I agree. This scandal cannot surely be allowed to pass by.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 15 February 2018 19:34 posted by tony drew

    Peter , I met with Charlie Elphicke in 2014 raising concerns about the background and unsuitability of schoolscompany trust . I also sent a FOI to the DOE asking for copies of their sponsor application which they refused.
    I then raised specific concerns to the DOE about MR Achillos's background and my belief that he did not fit the criteria of a sponsor. this was ignored and his application was approved . I also sent copies of all my evidence to the board at castle community school - no action was taken !
    it is on public record that immediately prior to him forming the trust his previous company went into liquidation owing tens of thousands of pounds to HMRC for unpaid VAT ( 12 months) and corporation tax
    my point is that all parties were aware and were either complicit, incompetent, lazy, or a bit of all of the above.

    this situation was totally avoidable if anyone had taken any notice of all the warning signs ! PETER: I had similar worries as expressed in my article, but you obviously went much further. What I believe I established at the time was that Mr Achilleos' record of his previous company dealings on Google had been wiped. Failure to listen has cost the school dearly as it looks it has somehow lost its money. I wrote to Charlie Elphicke about my concerns then, and sent him this article recently but have had no response on either occasion. Your allegations deserve a much wider audience and investigation.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 10 February 2018 06:59 posted by Goodwin Parent

    How come when SchoolsTrust fouled up our school three years ago they were allowed to Sponsor it? Chickens coming home to roost! I shudder to think what is happening in Nigeria! PETER: Certainly Government appears short of sponsors to take on failing schools and in this case the evidence was clear from the start that SchoolsCompany was failing the school. The Company website is very thin on specific achievements. KCC is cited as a partner, but I think SchoolsCompany were dropped three years ago after the original Castle debacle

  • Comment Link Saturday, 10 February 2018 06:55 posted by Gregory

    Peter, have you avoided saying that money appears to have been siphoned off from the SchoolsCompany Trust as happened with Lilac Sky? PETER: What I have said is that SchoolsCompany appears financially incompetent on the evidence of the ESFA Financial Warning. As for the other, I have simply raised various questions. I am not an accountant; but someone ought to be examining these matters further!

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