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Friday, 16 December 2016 10:47

Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust: The end to a profitable enterprise

The nine Lilac Sky Academies in Kent and East Sussex have just two more days before the unlamented Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT) closes down by Government Instruction and the schools are handed over to other Academy Trusts. The Trust Website still records the Board of Directors as those who saw the Trust to its financial ruin and were then removed, being replaced by Regional Schools Commissioners appointees six months ago.

 LSSAT Logo

Puffed up to the end, until just before the end of term, individual Trust Websites were self-congratulatory about their schools’ achievements with not a word about the change of Management apart from a brief notice buried away last July which reads– “Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust has decided that in order to serve the needs of our children we should seek an alternative Trust to take over the running of some of our schools” – perhaps an odd way to describe events.

The Trust carried a two million pound deficit at the end of 2014/15 (this year’s account still to come), which was originally reported as debts to be passed on to the successor Trusts, but I am now told the final sum will be absorbed by government; if so there will have been no incentive to save in the final year.  

LSSAT probably reached its acme in November 2015, when it boasted on its website that it had won a Department for Education contract to support Regional Schools Commissioners in eight RSC Regions, including  the South East, which would probably have come in very handy as the latter included all nine LSSAT Academies except that Government never activated it (see below). 

The Contract Brief
 - 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.

This would have been invaluable as it was surely a major conflict of interest. In the event, it appears that government belatedly realised there was an issue and no services were requested, the Contract being terminated in November 2016 (response to FOI Request). The FOI request also reveals thatthe EFA is reviewing financial management and governance at the trust. This work is currently ongoing and we have no further comments to make at this stage’......

However, LSSAT did better with East Sussex County Council, being awarded a Contract worth £200,000 to 'Deliver improvements in schools, colleges and settings' until August 2018. Given the poor performance of several of the Sussex Lilac Sky Academies, it is very surprising the contract was awarded in the first place and one can only hope this arrangement is proving better value.

The downward slide started just a few months later when the Trust was ordered by the DfE to break its connection with the Lilac Sky Companies which had been providing profitable services to the academies. 

Comments
Feel free to add to or contradict the comments at the foot of this page, or from other articles

You will find a full list of Lilac Sky Academies in my first article,  ‘Lilac Sky Academy Trust: The End of the Road’ written in July, and can follow the scandal through three other articles to ‘5 Live Investigates Lilac Sky’. Both of these articles contain links to other scandals involving the group, notably the Furness School closure, where the school was left with a £1.6 million deficit, with the remainder of Kent's maintained schools picking up the bill. Initially, KCC strongly praised their work, although more recently has described their actions as ‘outrageous’. 

Schoolsweek reported that the £2,000,000 deficit at the end of 2014/15 (which is unlikely to have got smaller since then) will be picked up by the new sponsors, although I understand from one of the schools concerned this is not to happen, so presumably the bill for the binge will be picked up by government from the education budget. My previous articles explain the loss as arising through the arrangement to provide services by the profit-making Lilac Sky Schools companies (now renamed Education 101 and Henrietta Le Forestiere Schools (no website yet) in an attempt to remove the toxicity of the name) which depart from this scene financially happy and scot-free. 2013/14 accounts show the founder receiving a direct £500,018 payment from the Trust in his capacity as majority shareholder. 

At Thistle Hill Academy, on the Isle of Sheppey, Vicky Averre-Beeson, daughter of the founder of LSSAT, who had been Principal of the academy amongst other roles, having held a number of other senior short term roles in the Trust, jumped ship as soon as the closure was announced and presumably has found another niche. The Headquarters of LSSAT moved from its original site in Chelmsford to Thistle Hill as still recorded on the Academy website, although it moved back to the Averre-Beeson farm estate some months ago. 

I understand that Stephen Capper, Principal of Knockhall Academy, one of the nine schools of LSSAT, lost his job on the last but one day of the Autumn Term, possibly asked to leave by the new owners, the Woodland Academy Trust. In a letter to parents, the link confirms that Knockhall is requiring parents to replace the expensive purple uniforms at their own expense fo rnew ones reflecting the new academy groups, as I suspect the other eight schools will also be doing. Mr Capper took up post from his previous position, having taken Futures Community Academy, a secondary school in Southend, into Special Measures. Shortly after he joined Knockhall it was taken over by Lilac Sky. He won’t have been the only one to go, but will Lilac Sky recycle him as they do with many of their other appointments when they are dispensed with in a role?

The Lilac Sky Philosophy (Guardian 2012)

Trevor Averre-Beeson says for-profit firms are more focused on improving a school than a new headteacher would be. 

For-profit companies should be brought in to help improve hundreds of underperforming state schools, according to the former headteacher of an inner-city comprehensive.

Trevor Averre-Beeson, ex-head at Islington Green comprehensive in north London, now works as the education director of one of the UK's biggest for-profit education firms, Lilac Sky Schools.

He said many of the 1,310 primary schools and 107 secondaries deemed underperforming could be "transformed" by companies such as his own.

The government's preferred model for underperforming schools is to turn them into academies. The trusts of academy schools must be established on a not-for-profit basis and the trusts can let contracts for the running of parts or all of a school's services. As long as a full EU procurement is carried out, this contract can be let for-profit. The same applies to non-academy schools.

Averre-Beeson said for-profit companies could just as easily work with failing schools that were not academies as schools that were.

"Becoming an academy is a solution for the majority of under-performing schools, but when there is a strong desire to maintain the character of a school … the solution could be for a company to run the school on a contracted-out basis for a number of years," he said. His company has contracts with 21 UK schools and is negotiating several more.

Averre-Beeson said for-profit companies were more focused on improving a school than a new headteacher would be because they had a contract with specific targets to reach. He said they were more accountable to local communities and governing bodies as a result.

"There are some schools that have been closed down and reopened. That is one solution and it works in the right circumstances, but where the local community doesn't want a school to close, it could enter into a contract with a private organisation. Schools don't have to go down an academy route," he said.

David Bell, who was permanent secretary at the Department for Education until the end of 2011, told the Guardian this month that he saw "no principled objection" to profit-making companies taking over state schools and expected they probably would do eventually.


 Contributions Welcome
Please feel free to let me know of your experiences with LSSAT as a parent, member of staff (I understand current staff contracts forbid contact with the media at pain of instant dismissal but this sanction disappears at the end of this week), or other. You can do this either by direct email (I am happy to keep your details confidential), or by using the comment form at the foot of this page. This story really should not finish without a proper epitaph. 
Last modified on Saturday, 31 December 2016 19:50

8 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 05 May 2017 19:18 posted by melanie

    I knew Mr Averre Beeson at Sunbury Grammar School where he promoted himself into Head Boy post...and then made his name in ....Drama.
    Great actor I seem to remember.
    ALl style and NO substance. Favoured by Mr Blair as well...A complete charlatan,and presumably now living in superior accommodation paid for by the tax payer.
    Great
    I rest my case.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 March 2017 15:08 posted by unhappy

    Lilac Sky Schools should be held in account for the way it has treated the pupils parents and staff.I worked in a school run by Lilac Sky and due to being taken over I am now no longer there.I have been let down by a head teacher who thought it was appropriate to allow some staff to be overpaid where others who unfortunately have health issues be treated in a way that leaving is the only option the OH doctor was a friend to the head teacher ??? He allowed HLTAs to teach children when the teachers had left and despite being told some HLTAs were not trained let alone one being unable to spell very simple words do simple sums as there was no GCSEs in place for maths and English this person is still teaching children at the same school 3/4 days a week. I feel very sorry for the pupils and the great teachers that work there but there has been some fantastic teachers that left and they are now teaching in other schools and I am sure they are a great asset to their chosen school. I just hope the new academy will employ teachers to teach and use the HLTAs to run intervention groups to improve the pupils that need extra help. PETER: I completely agree, but I fear like so many other crooks in the education business are being allowed to walk away scot free having made their money from the budgets of hard pressed schools and left several in dire straits.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 04 February 2017 14:11 posted by Disillusioned Parent

    Dear Peter

    I have read with great interest your articles on the Lilac schools fiasco. It seems unbelievable that Averre-Beeson and his wife are allowed to just do the same thing under another name? Is the education authority not onto them?

    I listened to the interviews with Adrian Goldberg on Live 5 Investigates on the 9th October and was heartened that Meg Hillier said all the right things, fit and proper persons test, integrity etc. However I'm completely dismayed at how the government can be so lacking in due diligence when spending public money.

    Lilac Sky is a great example, its officers Trevor Averre-Beeson and Jane Fielding said;
    "In 2009, the business needed to get that first foot in the door and get that break. The embryonic business started as an initial leaflet mail out offering services to head teachers and at Trevor's kitchen table 15,000 envelopes were licked between the two of them - Jane remembers that fondly"

    Fast forward to 2016 and from needing a break they had developed a multi million pound business. Where is the due diligence from the Education Authority? How can a husband and wife business be allowed to expand at this rate with no checks and balances.

    I believe that a robust investigation should take place by the inland revenue, companies house and the education authority as to whether these people can pass a fit and proper persons test to run a company. They are still out there presumably making lots of money on the backs of parents trying to do the best for their children by working very hard and paying their due taxes via a PAYE system that seems totally unfair compared to how company directors are allowed to behave.

    I might add that since 2009 Beeson and his wife have moved into a new and very large property, didn't need to sell a very large property to do it, just rented out. Would you believe spend in excess of £20,000 per year on education at a private school. This would be fine if it was earned through performance but it wasn't. They've seen an opportunity and exploited it. Public money handed out like it is confetti, parents and teachers suffering while the cream is being skimmed off into personal bank accounts.

    Teaching is obviously not a vocation for some people, more a means to get rich very quickly. Their family is doing very nicely yet many other families were struggling to purchase new school uniforms for their sons and daughters after they took over schools and demanded a change of uniform because lilac was their corporate identity. More importantly the quality of teaching didn't live up to the hype and promise.

    This type of thing makes me very angry and I do hope these individuals are not just allowed to hand the keys back, keep all the money that is not deserved and then move on under a new identity to cause more upset for other unsuspecting families. PETER I referred in a previous article to Henriette Le Forestier Prep School, a private school they took over last year in SE London. I am told that: 20 pupils have left, down to 90, and a third of the staff are being made redundant. I am also told that amongst the staff you will find Vicky Auxerre-Beeson, a familiar name! As this is a private school, the owners are far less likely to be bothered with any oversight by OFSTED, etc.

  • Comment Link Monday, 16 January 2017 19:27 posted by Ben

    It now seems that maybe even Trevor Averre-Beeson and Jane Fielding (aka Jane Averre-Beeson) think their names are toxic. A quick review of the websites of Henriette le Forestier Prep School and Education 101 reveals none of the previous “proud” references to Beeson and Fielding.

    http://www.henrietteleforestierprepschool.co.uk

    http://www.education101.org.uk

    Perhaps they have realised their names were doing more harm than good to their businesses? Well, would you want your name associated with the former Lilac Sky Schools?

    Even after initially saying in a statement on the previous Henriette le Forestier website that “I personally look forward to basking in the reflected glory of the children’s success" I can find no reference to Trevor Averre-Beeson on the school website site now.

    I did note however that in the true Lilac Sky tradition of recycling staff, Adele Stedman (a former Lilac Sky stalwart) has been appointed as Executive Headteacher of Henriette le Forestier school. Interestingly though Stedman does not seem to want to admit to working for Lilac Sky as her LinkedIn profile refers only to her having worked for a “Multi Academy Trust” between January 2013 – July 2016.

    A final note – if you are interested in ever seeing the Education Funding Agency publish their investigation report into Lilac Sky Academy Trust please write to your Member of Parliament and Justine Greening demanding that it is issued without delay.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 11 January 2017 20:04 posted by Ben

    Lilac Sky? Pigs Might Fly more like.

    Gloss, media relations, gloss and more gloss. This crowd milked my children’s school for all the money they could then p****d off to buy a private school in Croydon leaving a huge deficit. This deficit means that staff and children continue to suffer cuts under the new academy chain due to lack of funds.

    Take a look at this video of the Lilac Sky Schools Awards held at Merchant Taylors Hall in the City of London. Then YOU decide if this is how you want your money spent.

    https://vimeo.com/111423722

    We should, and MUST support and reward our teachers and other school staff for the really difficult job they do every day. However, I would guess that most of them would say that basic day to day respect from government, schools management, pupils and parents, along with and sufficient resources to do their work is what they would really ask for. I suspect expensive awards ceremonies would be fairly low down on their wish list.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 01 January 2017 23:54 posted by Kelly P

    So will anyone be held to account? This reads as if they are going to walk away and carry on as usual with the new Companies. Will the EFA investigation have any powers to punish? PETER: Not as far as I can see. The EFA can criticise and ban the owners from running further academies, but it looks as if they are cultivating pastures new.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 29 December 2016 21:27 posted by No one listened

    Lilac Sky didn't put our school into special measures, they were put in place to turn the school around. Unfortunately there was no turning and the school has remained stagnant. Plenty of promises and assurances but no improvement. All teachers already in employment at the point of take over have left and many there after employed by Lilac Sky didn't stick around. Teaching posts go unfilled and pupils are left being taught by HLTAs. In some cases classes have been disrupted by lack of teaching staff for 3 years out of 4. Ofsted show no interest at all and parents have reached the end of their tether. The only losers in this sorry mess are the students. All involved in Lilac Sky should be ashamed of themselves, I very much doubt it though. PETER: Sadly your signature says it all!

  • Comment Link Thursday, 29 December 2016 19:52 posted by Bitter Parent

    I am glad to hear that Lilac Sky was a profitable enterprise for someone. For us, it began with expansive promises accompanied by expensive uniforms, degenerated into a school of shifting sands with an early change of headteacher, and more importantly a procession of supply teachers - I suspect some were not qualified, at least they appeared to have few skills! According to one of the secretaries, they were cheaper. We have now been forced to pay out again for more new uniforms. It would have been good if someone had apologised for what you rightly call a scandal, or at least offered to pay for the uniforms from the profits that Lilac Sky made. PETER: I have had to edit out some of the stronger statements, although I have no personal quarrel with them.

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