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Thursday, 02 August 2018 06:19

Leigh Academies Trust: Property Deal Sounds Good Business

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Update: See recent article on agreed merger between LAT and the Williamson Trust. 

An item in Private Eye recently (reproduced below) about a property deal between Leigh Academies Trust and Greenwich Council caught my attention.  It relates to a re-brokering of the old Kidbrooke School, the first purpose built comprehensive school in the country, which became a stand alone Academy Trust called Corelli College in 2011. This school ran into difficulties and was re-brokered to Leigh Academy Trust for March 2018, where it has been re-named Halley Academy. According to the article 'It seems baffling that Greenwich is paying a trust a £500,000 grant and a £lm settlement over land it wasn't supposed to give away in the first place. I certainly remain baffled about what appears to be a complicated legal issue but can see it is very good business for LAT, although far away from real education. 

Oddly under the new Principal's Welcome one could never guess the school had changed ownership from a troubled school just a few months ago, as he talks about its heavenly ethos where all is wonderful. It even contains positive quotes from the Ofsted of May 2016, selecting from a generally negative Report about Corelli College, but without acknowledging they are nothing to do with the new incarnation of Halley College or of Leigh Academy Trust. 

With the school being subsequently the second worst GCSE performer in Greenwich in 2017 in both Progress8 and Attainment8 and in financial difficulties, the Regional Schools Commissioner appears to have acted very quickly in re-brokering it, certainly compared for example to SchoolsCompany, Lilac Sky and more recently Future Schools Trust. The school was then overseen by David Millar, Executive Head, who is also responsible for Stationers' Crown Woods Academy which has been with Leigh Academy since 2013. Mr Millar moved suddenly from a short period in his previous post as Principal of the troubled Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey in 2016. After a short period in charge, Mr Millar resigned again for personal reasons. 

Update: The comment below from a well informed source highlights the issue. The recent takeover of the Williamson Trust should cause the Trustees of the Sir Joseph Williamson's Charitable Trust to be cautious. Whilst independent of the Academy Trust, it is a wealthy charity and in 2017 donated £244,677 to The Math (and £200 to Rochester Grammar School), surely making it the wealthiest state school in Kent and Medway. There are of course many ways to shift funds around between an Academy Trust's schools!


From Private Eye, June 2018


Greenwich lean time

The Department for Education repeatedly reassures opponents of academies that school land is not being given away on an enormous scale - yet a rebrokering deal in Greenwich has seen taxpayers shell out £1.5m this year to settle a "disputed interest" in school land.

The former Kidbrooke School became an academy in 2011, changing its name to Corelli College. It was run by Corelli College Co-operative Academy Trust (CCCAT), a standalone academy, with no sponsor. Christine Grice, one of Greenwich's ruling Labour councillors, was a governor of the trust.

Minutes from 2011 show that land and buildings were to be transferred to the school on a 125-year lease at a peppercorn rent and that "safeguards provide for the land to be returned to the local authority if the school is discontinued". The minutes also note that "matters to be resolved" include whether disused tennis courts, a plot of land next to the school entrance and a manager's house should be included in the lease or retained by the council.

Alas, these matters were not resolved. No formal lease was ever signed.

In 2016 Corelli College was given a "requires improvement" rating by Ofsted, and by 2017 it had a significant deficit. In May 2017 the regional schools commissioner brought in Leigh Academy Trust (LAT), a multi-academy trust running 16 other schools, to take over. LAT checked out the school and promptly asked for £500,000 from Greenwich for essential health and safety work. This was agreed in January as a grant "in recognition of ' the retention of land and premises manager's' house", which would definitely be excluded from the lease this time around.

In February, however, another report to the leader of Greenwich council sought agreement to pay LAT a further "£ 1m settlement in respect of a disputed interest in land". According to that report, the school will now get a five-year licence to use the house and land but they are not to be included in the long lease. The report says the house and the plot next to the entrance are valued at £lm for residential purposes (thanks to London housing prices) and that selling the sites is a possibility in future.

"Further negotiations will risk delay to the school receiving permanent leadership and could potentially lead to the school being without a sponsor, both of which could have a detrimental impact on children's learning," said the report.

When Cllr Spencer Drury queried why the land had not just reverted to the council when CCCAT was disbanded, he was told that a change in sponsor was not the same as a school being discontinued (Peter: although Ofsted describes the school as 'closed'). Nevertheless, it seems baffling that Greenwich is paying a trust a £500,000 grant and a £lm settlement over land it wasn't supposed to give away in the first place.

The school has now transferred to Leigh Academy Trust and been re-renamed the Halley Academy.

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