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Thursday, 29 September 2016 19:27

News: KCC has realised there is a problem with Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust!

Patrick Leeson, Kent’s Corporate Director of Education and Young People's Services, described the actions of Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT) as ‘outrageous’ in a KCC Education Cabinet Meeting last week, following their gross mismanagement of the five Kent Primary Schools under their control. See previous articles for the story.

This is of course a complete turnaround from his position last year, when in spite of a series of articles by me on the gross mismanagement of the Furness School debacle by both Lilac Sky and Kent County Council, he praised Lilac Sky highly (four times) for their excellent work, in a debate on the school’s closure; see more below.  

Thistle Hill

He has also praised the Regional Schools Commissioner on his 'swift action' in removing the schools from Lilac Sky control – but this won't be finalised until Christmas! 'Swift action' overlooks the reality that RSC has known of serious problems with Lilac Sky from 2014 as detailed below. The RSC initially arranged for Lilac Sky commercial companies to stop providing services to LSSAT from September 2015, after a conflict of interest was identified. In spite of these issues, government saw fit to appoint Lilac Sky on a two year Contract in November 2015 to advise Regional Commissioners on vetting new academies and advising on improving existing ones, surely an immense conflict of interest, so no swift action then. Indeed it was not until serious accounting issues  came to light in July this year (in spite of a policy of light touch monitoring for academies) that the RSC was forced to take emergency action.  The revelations appeared after the Trust's initial accounts were rejected and showed that Lilac Sky Education appears to have extracted excessive sums of money from the Trust academies, plunging some schools into financial crisis as they struggle to pay it back, as highlighted by Mr Leeson, below.....

You can see the Education Cabinet Committee webcast of September 22nd that contains Mr Leeson’s comments here. The relevant section comprises a question by Mr Roger Truelove, a Member for Swale where two of the schools Richmond Academy and Thistle Hill Academy are situated on the Isle of Sheppey, at minute 39, and a response by Mr Patrick Leeson at minute 42.

Furness School
Regular followers of this website will recall that I initially alleged outrageous failure by KCC with regard to the now closed Furness School back in 2012, as described in my article on the school’s OFSTED Inspection at that time. The County then placed the school with Lilac Sky to manage, and just two years later, it proposed to close the school as it had run up an anticipated deficit of £1.6 million by August 2015. Although just a drop in the ocean, staff were alleging to me that employees of Lilac Sky were enjoying a lifestyle of extravagant expenses. The closure plan was made public just a few weeks after a senior KCC finance offer had falsely assured the governors that the Authority was satisfied with financial progress and improved school numbers.  I wrote a series of articles following in which I consistently argued that Lilac Sky was mismanaging the contract, and that KCC appeared unwilling or unable to see what was going on, but made no progress in getting my message through. Indeed, eighteen months ago an Open Letter, which I wrote to Mr Leeson in February 2015 detailing many of the issues, was treated almost with contempt, and it was alleged I had made ‘scurrilous allegations’, although when I challenged this asking what they were, received no response. I wrote my final article on the subject in April 2015.

Interestingly, the headteacher at the time, who Mr Leeson claimed had done an excellent job and was a specialist in Special Education Needs but actually appeared to have no senior SEN experience if any, abandoned Furness to its fate some weeks before the end of its last term, a very difficult period for the school. This was in order to prepare for her new post at the new Martello Grove Academy in Folkestone. However, she only lasted there for six months before moving to become an Associate Head at a Lilac Sky Jewish primary school in London.

Government Action
The people running LSSAT have made clear that they see running academies as a commercial enterprise, as indeed do one of the new Trusts taking over the academies!

Government awareness that LSSAT was not fit for purpose should have begun when they took Tabor Academy in Essex away from the Trust in 2014 after it had been placed in Special Measures, and blocked them from running a new Free School close to their headquarters. They also served a warning notice to a Sussex LSSAT school to improve standards or face closure the following year.

But apparently none of this was sufficient to dissuade the Regional Schools Commissioner from entrusting the nine new primary academies in Kent and Sussex to LSSAT. Neither did it stop Lilac Sky from winning a contract to support RSCs in eight Regions in November, some time after these controversies.

Education 101 win Department for Education contract to support Regional Schools Commissioners in eight RSC Region

13th November 2015
More good news for Education 101 in that we have been successful in winning a two-year contract with the Department for Education to support the Regional Schools Commissioner in the eight RSC Regions, including London Boroughs. Education 101 will be providing specialist advisers to work with the Regional Schools Commissioners on their Free Schools and Open Academies Programme. 
 
Education 101 Advisers will
       - advise open academies on effective improvement strategies;
      - assess and advise on Free School/UTC/Studio School applications;
- assist the RSC’s in securing suitable sponsorship solutions for relevant maintained schools.

The above news item was on the Lilac Sky website until recently, with 'Lilac Sky' in place of 'Education 101' (see below), but now appears to have been replaced by one reporting on a new Contract to Support East Sussex schools. Another interesting clash, given that the RSC has now taken three East Sussex Academies away from LSSAT.

It is not clear if the Lilac Sky support of the RSC continued as he was deciding to close down LSSAT or is still operational – the contract was to last until November 2017. 'Lilac Sky Education', one of a number of Lilac Sky companies, an arrangement which has the effect of muddying financial transactions, has now changed its name to '101 Education' perhaps in an effort to hide any conflict of interest.  

Kent Lilac Sky Academies
Describing LSSAT’s behaviour with regard to the four Kent Lilac Sky Academies, Mr Leeson said: “Lilac Sky took a percentage of the schools’ budgets that was not tenable and that was outrageous and has left some schools in financial difficulty. It has been a very unfortunate episode and is extremely disappointing, especially given the fact the trust was managing five of our primary schools. This has been very disruptive for the schools concerned.

It is clear from the academy websites that there has been a large turnover of staff as a consequence, Thistle Hill Primary Academy in Sheppey being typical.  Ms Vicky Averre (daughter of the founder of Lilac Sky) Executive Principal for a year, and Assistant Director of LSSAT, has quietly vanished over the summer, this being typical of the temporary nature of many posts held by senior members of Lilac Sky and has been replaced by an Acting Principal. In September's school newsletter he welcomed “lots of new teachers and support staff”, suggesting a mass changeover for a school of around 100 children only.  

This is going to be a very difficult term for the five schools as they hand over to new Trusts – and what about all the expensive purple uniforms and bespoke purple PE kit with logos. It is difficult to see what interest Lilac Sky has in doing a good job, as seen in the example of Furness above, especially given that the name will die with the Academy Trust at Christmas, Lilac Sky’s other companies having morphed into 101 Education Ltd. and Henriette Le Forestier, Ltd; see my previous article for explanation! 

Last modified on Friday, 30 September 2016 20:34

2 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 07 October 2016 10:02 posted by Claire

    Looks like the pension deficit is much wider-spread than just LSSAT!

    http://schoolsweek.co.uk/soaring-support-staff-pensions-could-lead-to-outsourcing/ PETER: thanks for this alarming news.I have now incorporated it in the artcicle above.

  • Comment Link Friday, 30 September 2016 19:14 posted by S. Clark

    Words fail me Peter. How dare that man say what he says with a clear conscience.
    I am guessing that he hasn't had to counsel the many children scarred for life by the Furness School closure.

    If he had he may have used words that are more powerful.

    The students at the now closed Furness School experienced their security and safety taken away by greed, incompetence and ignorance by people who are paid (or took) vast sums to do/know better.
    And LLS, KCC and the IEB at Furness at the time are all to blame.
    As ever it is the most vulnerable who have suffered.
    Disgusting

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