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Sunday, 09 October 2016 17:01

5 Live Investigates Lilac Sky and Others

The Radio Five Programme, ‘5 Live Investigates’ has broadcast a programme (available here on i-Player) about Academies and personal financial benefit which includes a strong section on Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT), at 24 minutes into the programme. Most of the material on Lilac Sky is also reported on in various articles on this website, most recently here. Further comment below, but you can also read a summary of the whole on the BBC website, here.

LSSAT Logo

Lilac Sky is not alone. Currently there are around 5,500 academies. Of these, 113 Academy Trusts are in debt to a total of nearly £25 million. In 2014, eleven academies were given financial warnings, now up to 21 in the past year. 16 of the schools in deficit have been bailed out by £4½ million. At least £700,000 has been written off already. One quote: “Some of those running academies have developed ingenious and legal ways to line their own pockets”.....

Lilac Sky
am not going to go over all the material contained in my previous articles again, nor what is on the BBC summary.

However, to pick up a couple of points. Mr Averre-Beeson says he is proud of the achievements of Lilac Sky Schools, Ltd, quoting various successes the company has enjoyed. Of course the Limited Company is not LSSAT, the Trust which has failed. He does not mention the failures of the Limited Company, which has now changed its name to 101 Education, presumably to get away from the toxic Lilac Sky brand. These include Furness School which crashed under Lilac Sky Limited management with debts of £1.63 million, nor Tabor Academy in Essex which plunged into Special Measures under Lilac Sky Limited, to the extent that government took away a new Free School they were planning to award the company.

It is not true to say that The deficit for the trust in 2015 was due to costs associated with setting up four new primary academies’. The Trust accounts state explicitly they were part brought about by the loss of the academy and Free School, but these accounts also show that £500,000 was directly paid out to Mr Averre-Beeson in one year which surely had an effect.It is not true that ‘The individual schools themselves were all in surplus’. As my latest article records, government ordered LSSAT to recover losses run up by 2014-15, and they began by increasing the central LSSAT levy on the nine academies from 5% to 7% (many Trusts charge 3%), removing various free services and increasing the employer contributions to pensions payments, all inevitably having a negative effect on the quality of education offered in its schools.

Not recorded in the BBC summary is the £14,500 lavished on an LSSAT Champagne Reception in 2014.

An Education Professor from Sussex University notes on the programme that government claims to closely monitor academy finances are discredited, and that most such cases are brought into the open by whistle blowers.

Finally:
One parent was interviewed by the Radio Programme about their experience with an LSSAT academy, part of which was broadcast. The full transcript is as follows:

At first it looked like this would be a good thing. LSSAT came in with all the promises, gloss and ambitious plans. Parents were impressed. Very soon the school was flooded with "Lilac Sky" managers, and "Outstanding Achievement Coaches" of course all wearing something Lilac. Even at this very early stage it was difficult to work out who was school teaching staff and who was an employee of Trevor Averre-Beeson's Lilac Sky Schools company.

Not long after problems emerged with teachers leaving in large numbers. I understand they felt under immense pressure to improve results and felt badly managed. Staff were recruited from overseas, newly qualified teachers bought in. In the end few of the good ones stayed. I know recruitment and retention of teaching staff is difficult but this problem was at a much higher level than the norm. Senior staff were leaving and "consultants"from Lilac Sky were moving in and out quickly as they were moved on to other academies that were opening rapidly.

All the time the pressure was on results, results, results and that meant the less able got left behind. Many of the non-core /fun things that are an everyday part of most primary schools were cut - swimming lessons, music lessons, school trips. However, money was made available to send children who were soon to sit SATs on SATs booster courses at other Lilac Sky schools in the county.  There were no school clubs other than those provided at a cost by external companies.

SEN was simply not prioritised. The school was so disorganised and lacking in experienced staff they simply could not provide the consistent systematic support these children needed.  In the end, what I saw was essentially a programme of trying to move out children with SEN because they did not contribute to SATs and were a drain on money/resources. This was achieved by giving so little attention to their needs that parents had no choice but to move them to other schools.  Toward the end I think the school did come to some realisation that they needed to provide more support for SEN children and some extra TA’s with SEN experience were bought in to give one to one or extra support to some children. However, not long after it appears there was a cash crisis, presumably around the time LSSAT increased the top slice on the schools and I understand a number of these TA’s contracts were terminated or not renewed.

The numbers stayed quite high because of a general shortage of school places in the area but many of these were not there by choice. The school used to be very popular however the reputation of the school fell to such a low level that parents moved pupils out, new ones didn't apply. This put great pressure on other local primaries and meant it became a "sink" school with many kids coming from a wide area because they were unable to get into other schools.

I feel really let down by the local authority and the Department for Education who allowed what was essentially a company to be awarded more and more schools in a very short period of time despite not having demonstrated it could run them. The most worrying thing is that even after issues arose with other schools they ran and concerns were raised by the Education Funding Agency about the relationship between Lilac Sky and Trevor Averre-Beeson and his wife's companies they were still awarded more academies by the Department for Education.  As far as I’m concerned this was all about business and making money and little to do with educating children.

Please feel free to share your experiences, whether different or the similar to the above. 

Last modified on Sunday, 09 October 2016 19:32

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