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Friday, 13 December 2019 00:56

Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust: Progress on Financial Investigation

For those who thought we had seen the last of the dreadful Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT)I enclose a copy of a letter sent by the Government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which reports on the ESFA investigation into LSSAT.

LSSAT Logo

This tells us that the investigation concluded several months ago and that the ESFA intends to publish a final version of the report, so there is already an interim Report in existence about the investigation. The author of the letter, sent 9th October, apologises for the long delay in concluding the investigation, and records that the final Report will be published as soon as possible after fact checking has taken place. Clearly a robust process of fact checking that has taken more than two months already!

The letter concludes: ‘I cannot speculate as to exactly what enforcement action will be taken. However, I can assure you that the department will take robust action as appropriate to ensure that individuals responsible for financial mismanagement will be held to account’. In other words, some form of action will be carried out.

Background
I have reported extensively on the disgraceful story of LSSAT in Kent from the beginning, when I came across parent company Lilac Sky Schools financially ripping off KCC and the Furness Special School from before 2013, as explained in  an article I wrote in 2015. This noted: ‘KCC having created the failure, then called in Lilac Sky Schools, a favoured management and academy trust, to dig themselves out of the hole they had created. An FOI I submitted in 2013 established that KCC had paid Lilac Sky £574,650 in the following 18 months as a School Improvement Partner, to support the school and its 34 students then on roll, a fall of 56 or two thirds since the previous headteacher left. Hardly a success indicator!’  

For the next three years I highlighted the failures of Lilac Sky in a series of highly critical articles but could make no progress, even though I came to be regarded as the lead on this issue by various media outlets. The main reason for this was that KCC and its CEO, Patrick Leeson, appeared bewitched by the Company and Mr Leeson repeatedly reported back to KCC on their excellence. He also took time out to wrongly allege that I was not telling the truth and asked me to retract, but unsurprisingly was unable to supply details. You will find a key article here, although if you put Lilac Sky into my search engine you will find much more.  

Eventually, after his Deputy switched loyalties to Lilac Sky as described in the article, and after the Regional Schools Commissioner took the Lilac Sky schools away from their Academy Trust, Mr Leeson saw the light and describe the Academy Trust’s behaviour as ‘outrageous’, as explained here. It is obviously unfortunate that during these four years, Lilac Sky was able to siphon millions of pounds out of the schools, KCC funds and the ESFA. It then handed over the five badly run primary schools in Kent, with just one of these having recovered to date. Knockhall Primary, Martello Primary and Richmond Academy have all subsequently been found by Ofsted to Require Improvement, and all feature in articles along with Thistle Hill Primary.

The Letter
The Local Schools Network, one of three key education campaigning websites, all of which have explored these issues, has published a further analysis of the letter, which covers all the key issues. It concludes: But it’s two years since a Financial Notice to Improve was served on LSSAT.  This said ‘significant irregular financial and governance practice’ had been going on ‘over a number of years’.  LSSAT has been bailed out by ESFA and £500k written off.Yet the long-awaited report has not appeared.  This is hardly the ‘robust’ and speedy intervention promised.
 
Lilac Sky: Final Chapter
An article I wrote in March this year looks at the quite bizarre death struggles of Lilac Sky, along with further information about the machinations of the Trust and associated companies. However, 'Final Chapter' still looks premature, given the robust action promised by the Education Skills and Funding Agency.
 
Last modified on Friday, 13 December 2019 01:24

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