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Staggering blog by Kent consultant Peter Read on Lilac Sky academies. Real issues here re DfE oversight, it seems. 1:16 pm - 5 Aug 2016
Various updates, most recently 18 August.
The delayed publication of the 2015 accounts of the Lilac Sky Academy Trust (LSSAT) at last reveals some of the reasons why they are being closed down.
in summary: In the two years to 1st April 2015, over a million pounds was paid by LSSAT to companies run by Trevor Averre-Beeson, founder of LSSAT, for services provided. As a consequence, LSSAT ended the year £665,972 in debt and with a pension deficit of £1,320,000. i.e. It was non-viable. Mr Averre-Beeson was awarded advances of £500,018 for 2013/14 in his capacity as majority shareholder in Lilac Sky Outstanding Services one of the beneficiary companies, although there appears no parallel entry in the record for the 2014/15. There is no suggestion by me of any breach of law.
Probably the biggest of so many questions raised by this debacle is who pays off the apparent near £2 million shortfall in LSSAT? Attempted answer below!
In order to try and reduce the deficit, LSSAT increased the individual academy contributions to central funding for 2015-16 to 7% of their total income, from 5% (many Multi-Academy Trusts only deduct 3%) and made new charges for services to individual academies, both clearly having a direct effect of reducing the quality of education in the schools. In addition it proposed increasing employer contributions to pension provision, presumably because this had been underfunded. It is unlikely that the effect of these actions would be likely to produce a swift removal of the deficit.
Mr Averre-Beeson 'left' the Board of LSSAT in April 2015, and also his role as CEO, to be replaced by Chris Bowler who had previously been Managing Director, However Mr Bowler only lasted a year, and now appears to have been removed from this post by the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC).
As first reported in my previous article, Lilac Schools Company is still being considered for the running of a new Jewish Free School in North London, so amazingly has not yet lost all credibility with Government. ....
This is my third article on the scandal of Lilac Sky (1), (2). The first two are worth re-reading, even if you have visited before, as I have updated them several times, including watching the kaleidoscope of characters who keep turning up in different roles!
Oddly, although I believe I saw the published accounts appear on the Companies House website, they have now vanished; the only access to them being on the LSSAT website itself, although only traceable from Google, not via any link from the site itself.
Instead of closing the Trust down in April 2015, as was the clear duty of a government department which boasts that it has the power to take action promptly when such troubles occur, Government allowed LSSAT to proceed with opening four new government funded academies and to allow LSSAT to increase its central deduction from individual academies placing them under further pressure to try and recover its funds. Presumably, as LSSAT remains technically responsible for the nine academies until 1st January, 2017, it will continue to extract further monies from them under this mechanism.
In 2013/14 Lilac Sky Schools, a private company (majority shareholder Trevor Averre-Beeson, founder of LSSAT) was paid £809,813 by LSSAT for 'services provided'. Further services were provided by Lilac Sky Outstanding Services, also with Mr Averre-Beeson as majority shareholder in the year to 1 April 2015, of £271,742, although as these accounts are abbreviated there is no indication of his reward for this year. Nevertheless, the EFA and Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) ruled that no further dealings with the two companies could take place and Mr Averre-Beeson stood down as Trustee. In spite of this the DfE and RSC allowed LSSAT to go ahead with opening four new primary academies for September 2015: Thistle Hill; Martello Grove; and Hailsham and Newhaven in Sussex, which appears gross negligence to say the least.
So where does the apparent near £2 million shortfall come from? With Furness School (see below), which LSSAT steered to a £1.6 million deficit before closure it fell upon the cost of education of children in Kent; it is not clear who it was with Tabor Academy (see below), but I suspect it would have been bailed out by government. Of one thing I am sure it will not be Mr Averre-Beeson, who is an unashamed advocate of with-profit schools. Although he resigned as Director of LSSAT in April 2015, see below, Mr Averre-Beeson is still integrally involved in its affairs according to the Trust website:
"In 2009 Trevor founded Lilac Sky with his educational partner Jane Fielding who he met at Islington Green. As founder of the company he remains hands-on, overseeing schools and academies; he undertakes a coaching role in Lilac Sky partner schools; leads training seminars."
Lilac Sky Trustees
My previous articles describe various comings and goings in the Board of Directors of LSSAT, the current website page proving somewhat out of date. It describes the Chair of the Trust as Angela Gartland, who took over in April 2015, following the resignation of Trevor Averre-Beeson. It notes she is also headteacher of Rosh Pinah Jewish Primary School in Edgware (see below), but in fact she resigned from the Board of Trustees of SLSSAT on 1st July 2016.
The website lists Chris Bowler as CEO, who had previously replaced Sue Rogers
, recruited from her position as KCC's Director of Education Quality in January 2015, although she lasted just three months in the role (and is now Deputy Director of Education for Somerset CC. However, he stepped down in July 2016, to be replaced by Angela Barry as CEO, according to Companies House, presumably installed by the RSC. Angela Barry has a strong portfolio, also being a National Leader of Education and CEO of The Woodland Trust, along with a ruthless streak according to a recent newspaper article, which may come in useful in her new role! She also happens to be one of the six heads on the powerful Headteacher Board of the SE Regional School Commissioner, and one of just two directly appointed by Dominic Herrington, the SE RSC. Not surprisingly, she is reported to be the person responsible for the re-brokering of the nine LSSAT academies to new sponsors, including Knockhall to The Woodland Trust,
Nicolette King, the other directly appointed member of the RSC Board, was also appointed as an LSSAT Director increasing the grip of the RSC on the Trust, underlining the gravity of the current situation.
After his demotion from CEO, Chris Bowler remains a Director, but as an employee presumably needs a new role. He is now called Director of Schools and Academies, a role severely diminished and which will presumably cease to exist in the New Year as there won't be any left.
Philip Bunn, until recently, Head of Safeguarding with the Trust, also resigned his Directorship on 1st July, but he has also been Executive Headteacher at Rosh Pinah for some time, although describing himself as an Education Management Consultant, taking over the substantive running of this small school (what was he doing there before as Executive Head?) from Angela Gartland who now becomes Associate Executive Head of the School, all supported by Jill Howson as Consultant Headteacher. The proliferation of titles with the rapidity of change does make the mind boggle.
The other four current Directors of the Trust comprise two members of the law firm presumably responsible for ensuring it remains legal, and two Business Consultants, both appointed in June, presumably to help wind down the Trust.
Kent County Council
in my previous articles I questioned the role of Kent County Council in all of this, especially with regard to the financial failure of Furness School. It is a matter of record that a week before KCC proposed the closure of the school because of its forecast financial deficit of over £1.5 million by the end of the 2014-15 school year, and the falling pupil numbers, a KCC finance officer falsely informed the Interim Executive Board for the school that the finances were under control. Further the closure proposal made the ridiculous claim that parents of High Functioning ASD children were looking for main-stream rather than Special Schools. The problem was exacerbated by a foolish agreement between KCC and the Lilac Sky managers of Furness not to admit further High Functioning ASD children at one stage, which itself helped serve as a death knell for the school. KCC's Corporate Director of Education strongly challenged my assertion that there was something wrong here, and four months after the events of April 2015 commended Lilac Sky three times to a formal Council Cabinet meeting debating the closure on their handling of the school, as recorded in the webcast of the meeting! I have several times asked, without reply, who in KCC is accountable for this debacle, but there is now an even more pressing question: did KCC know the truth about Lilac Sky when Mr Leeson praised them so highly in July? If so, why did officers allow him to make the praise and what actions did they take at the time as a consequence,such as trying to recover some of what appears to have been gross overcharging for services? If not, what representations have they made to the RSC about his failure to share such critical information?
I have now received a number of communications from browsers coming from different directions, commenting on other issues relating to Lilac Sky. One of the most recent reads:
Are you aware of Lilac Sky's involvement in Tabor Academy Braintree Essex prior to their work in Kent secondary schools? As a previous member of staff during the transition to them and their subsequent sacking and control being handed over to a new academy trust I am speaking from first hand experience that their methods had the staff one day away from striking with all unions supporting action, and rumour of missing pension funds. A colleague used the phrase that we were in an abusive relationship! Our head sold us out for a directorship with Liliac Sky which lasted less than a year for him!
I did report on some of this over a year ago in an article that also highlights the failures of KCC and Lilac Sky at Furness. Of course Tabor Academy was the start of the downfall of Lilac Sky, as reported earlier, with its sudden descent into Special Measures and the consequent government withdrawal of a proposal for Lilac Sky to run a new Free School in its home base of Chelmsford. Lilac Sky does like to re-cycle any underperforming staff, leaping from sector to sector, so it was no surprise to see the Head who accompanied Tabor into Special Measures, Matthew Slater, reappear shortly afterwards as Associate Head of Rosh Pinah Primary School, working under Angela Gartland.
Rosh Pinah and Lilac Sky Schools are now at the heart of one of several bids for a new Jewish Free School in Barnet, and Lilac Sky have set up a new Academy Trust, the Nekadma Trust, possibly in anticipation of winning the contract to run the new school, to be called Kedem High School. Nekadma has three Directors: Vicky Averre-Beeson, currently Principal of Thistle Hill, and a founder Director of LSSAT; Jane Fielding (otherwise Mrs Averre-Beeson), founder Director of LSSAT, and the Chairman of Governors of Rosh Pinah. The proposal is proving controversial as, whilst Lilac Sky, with all the baggage it is currently carrying, is preparing and presumably funding the bid it looks as if it will only get a return if it, in conjunction with Rosh Pinah, secures the Management Contract to run the new school. Of course, given that government has already blocked one Free School bid from a Lilac Sky company in Chelmsford, surely it won't approve another just because of some cosmetic changes. Or will it not notice!?
Turner Schools, describing themselves as a brand new academy group, taking over Martello Grove and Morehall Academies, have as their Chair of the Trustees, Professor Carl Lygo Vice-Chancellor of the BPP a Private University Group for Professional Services, described as 'Britain's first 'for-profit university (See comment posted below). We must hope they don't offer professional services using similar strategies to Lilac Sky, run by another for-profit advocate! UPDATE They are now bidding to set up a new secondary Free School on the site of the closing Pent Valley in Folkestone, focusing on French and Modern Languages for September 2018. In a worrying statement the news article records:"According to research by the New Schools Network, only six state-educated students in Shepway studied languages beyond GCSE – putting the district amongst the worst in the country".This is of course a completely false statement as, for example, The Harvey Grammar just down the roadhad 12 students studying AS or A Level foreign languages in the school year concluding, and presumably Folkestone School for Girls had similar numbers. New Schools Network is a charity committed to supporting new Free Schools, one of whose Trustees is Dr Jo Saxton, CEO of Turner Schools! Hardly an auspicious start.
There must be concerns amongst both teaching and non-Teaching staff at the nine academies as to their future. On 25th July, the GMB Union issued the following discouraging statement:
Executive Principal of Woodlands Academy Trust, Angela Barry, has been parachuted in as Lilac Sky’s interim CEO in order to manage the process of passing the schools onto new trusts. She informed GMB contractual pay and harmonisation arrangements that were formally agreed between unions and Lilac Sky back in April would not been be honoured in the future. The arrangements were due to be implemented in September this year, so support staff are likely to be left in limbo over the summer break”.
So no encouragement there, my reading being that it appears certain agreements were not signed off.
TUPE employment legislation should ensure all permanent staff have terms of Employment transferred to the new Academy Trusts, but often headteachers or Principals are at risk. Vicky Averre-Beeson at Thistle Hill, a founder director of TSSAT an now director of Nekadma surely has a future direction, as does Annie Donaldson, still Director of Learning at LSSAT, but also Executive Head of Marshlands Academy in Sussex, having been in charge when it was issued with a DfE Pre-termination warning. Her post at Marshlands was advertised for September but unsurprisingly does not appear to have been filled by another applicant! Stephen Capper, Principal of Knockhall Academy, might appear to have a perilous position at Knockhall Academy, given its takeover by Woodlands Academy and Angela Barry. However, like many other Lilac Sky regulars,having had a number of appointments in Essex, he must be hoping to be re-cycled again.
Another senior Lilac Sky person, with what appears to be a typical Lilac Sky profile, appears to be Tony Rawdin. Recruited by the company after a failed OFSTED at Norton College in Yorkshire where he was Executive Head, he became Associate Head at Richmond Primary in Sheerness, in September 2012, under Annie Donaldson, supported by Vikki Averre as Achievements Leader, in what appears to be a typical arrangement for potential Lilac Sky schools, whereby they saturate the school with their leading staff who then move on shortly afterwards. In this case, he appeared to be holding two positions simultaneously, as he also took up post as Executive Principal of Furness School at the same time.
One member of staff at the time recalls: "He was on site for a few days in the first term, not sure what he did, but whatever it was it appeared to have no impact on the school." Was he at Richmond? I presume that KCC had not noticed the dual role, or were they simply unconcerned. However, he was appointed Northern Regional Director for Lilac Sky less than a year later, a post he still appears to occupy, according to LinkedIn. In the meantime, he popped up briefly at Marshlands and Hailsham Academies as Executive Principal in the summer of 2015, along with Annie Donaldson, whilst Marshlands received its pre-termination warning, (one member of staff recalls seeing him at Hailsham for 'around ten days' ), but is now back north having joined Barlby High School in January as Interim Principal. Meanwhile Annie Donaldson has remained at Marshlands.
Note: Some of this material helped source the most recent article on LSSAT in Schoolsweek. Some was drawn from it!