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.
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”.....
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.
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.....
And more: Schoolsweek this week exposes the fact that many other academy chains are running large pension deficits, with the pension deficit at REAch2, which runs 55 primaries, rising from £12.6 million in 2014, to £18.4 million last year. They also Report that the Lilac Sky deficit is to be passed on to the new sponsors. How on earth are they going to recover this?
Further Update: SchoolsWeek has now published another article, in which the founder of Lilac Sky claimed the revised LSSAT accounts, see below, were inaccurate and released to try and embarrass him. The article also picks up on issues I have previously raised.
Update: Following publication of my article, SchoolsWeek has also published (page 4) an article about Lilac Sky. On page 2, it publishes an article about cheating by use of impostors, in the Kent Test.
Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust, responsible for five academies in Kent and four in Sussex, has now published revised accounts for the year ending 31st August, in which the new Board of Trustees disassociates itself from what has gone before:
|Had the trustees been aware of the full extent of the non-compliance with the Trust’s policies on procurement at the date of the approval of the original financial statements, and the remedial action that would be imposed by the EFA as a consequence, it would have cast significant doubt on the trustees’ assessment of the trust’s ability to continue as a going concern.|
This news explains the events I have chronicled in three previous articles, most recently here, explaining the decline and fall of the Trust and its academies. It may well be that after January, the Trust will be quietly closed as the Regional Schools Commissioner has removed all its nine academies and allocated them elsewhere (details in my previous articles). Sadly, it is the students who have been punished over the past year by this mismanagement as amongst other events, most notably Marshlands Academy being given a Warning of closure if it failed to improve its standards, the Regional School Commissioner (RSC) instructed the Trust to claw back some of its financial losses by remedial action. This explicitly meant taking funds provided for education, out of the school budgets to pay off the debts.
Through part or all of the past eighteen months, well after the problems initially emerged, the RSC has been supported by Lilac Sky Advisers, appointed by government to assist him in his duties by overseeing the performance of academies, and opening new ones, surely somewhat of a conflict of interest!
Lilac Sky now appears to have decided its name is toxic and so Lilac Sky Outstanding Services Ltd, name recently changed to Lilac Sky Education Ltd on 1st July 2016, has now been completely re-branded as Education 101 Outstanding Education Services Ltd from 1st September. At the same time, the name of Lilac Sky Schools Ltd also bites the dust and this company is now branded Henriette De Forestier Schools Ltd from 31st August, as its seeks to diversify into private education.
I look at the latest news from each of the three companies, Lilac Sky Academy Trust, Education 101, and Henriette De Forestier, in more detail below - there is plenty of it!…
TWITTER VERDICT BY WARWICK MANSELL: THE GUARDIAN
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
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. ....
I can now confirm that Lilac Sky Academy Trust (LSSAT) is being investigated by the Education Funding Agency, on behalf of the Department for Education, into its financial practices. The Trust will be closed on December 31st, only the third Trust nationally I can find that has been shut down in this way. My previous article sets out the background to the story, anticipating this development. Knockhall Academy, one of the nine LSSAT primary schools in Kent and Sussex, is transferring to the The Woodland Academy Trust on 1st January 2017, and a letter sent out to parents yesterday (1) & (2) confirms the investigation and closure, adding significantly that "any monies due to the school will be recovered", I have also been sent by Turner Schools, the new sponsors of Morehall and Martello Grove Academies in Folkestone, a copy of a letter to parents that provides more information about the new organisation than was available in my previous article.....
This article looks at the five new Kent academies opened since my previous Report, changes in ownership of academies, Lilac Sky, and new and proposed Free Schools.
New academies open since February are: Beaver Green Primary in Ashford, sponsored by Swale Academy Trust; Charlton CofE Primary Dover, (Diocese of Canterbury); Lydd Primary (Village Academy Trust); and two Converter stand-alone primaries, Chilton Primary, Ramsgate; and Godinton Primary, Ashford.
There are new converter applications from Manor Community Primary, Dartford and St Mary’s Catholic Primary, Canterbury.
You will find a full list of open and proposed Kent and Medway Academies here, and of the academy groups operating in the county here, although the latter picture changes rapidly and I would be grateful for any updates or amendments that need to be made.
I am very disappointed there has been no response from KCC to my previous article on Furness School, considering the important issues of finance and integrity it raises. Neither has there been even an acknowledgment of my formal request for the evidence supporting the unlikely assertion that parents of high functioning ASD children are spurning Special School places in favour of Units attached to mainstream schools, critical to the closure proposal, but completely ignored in the closure Consultation document.
The failure of the Local Authority to carry out a proper Equality Impact Assessment, according to the Equality Act, places the whole closure proposal in legal jeopardy.
I have now written the following letter to Mr Patrick Leeson, KCC Corporate Director of Education and Children's Services:
Dear Mr Leeson,
Like me, you must be both concerned and embarrassed by the two mutually contradictory documents produced by KCC Officers about the future of Furness School, accompanied by the failure to produce an adequate and legal equality impact assessment.
The situation is made much worse by the fact that the first of the two documents, the Complete Proposal for the re designation of Furness as a Special School for high functioning ASD children left out crucial information whose absence will have misled KCC Education and Children's Services Cabinet Committee members and would surely have affected their decision to approve the proposal. In particular, the financial crisis that is the prime factor behind the proposed closure of the school just seven months later, would have been starkly evident back in July and so should certainly have been presented to members to make a reasoned decision, whereas there is no mention of finances whatsoever.
My immediate concern is that parents have been invited to a meeting to discuss the consultation document on 24th February, and are surely entitled to answers to the following questions to enable them to understand the issues. Many of the issues are amplified in my article, which I am sure has already been referred to you as a matter of grave concern………