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Monday, 08 June 2020 04:36

Lilac Sky Academy Trust: Further Financial Malpractice Exposed

The government began an enquiry into financial malpractice at Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT) in 2016 which it closed down the same year, transferring its  its five Kent primary schools to other Trusts. The enquiry was  completed in 2019, but is still not published eight months later. A troubling Liquidator’s Report into Henriette Le Forestier Schools, a direct successor company to Lilac Sky, has now been published, as reported in SchoolsWeek, after it ran up £928,000 in debts in less than a year.  

LSSAT Logo

I first came across the Lilac Sky profit making empire in 2012, when I discovered the large sums of money it was extracting from Kent County Council through its management of the struggling Furness Special School, using expensive consultants brought in for brief periods, along with other profit making wheezes, eventually leaving this small school with a deficit of £1.63 million. It set up LSSAT in the same year, having been a ‘school improvement’ firm since 2009. The organisation then proceeded to cream off considerable funds from the Trust. By the time LSSAT was closed down by government in 2016 with debts of nearly £2 million, it was running nine primary schools in Kent and Sussex and still being strongly championed by KCC in the face of my exposure of extensive malpractice. Lilac Sky morphed through nine different limited companies and finally vanished after the final four of these were eventually declared insolvent, as explained here

I have reported on as much of this disturbing and complex story as is appropriate through a series of articles listed below (necessarily omitting some of the spicier parts), revealing multiple and apparently highly successful money making schemes, and looking at some of the schools whose children were failed on the way.  

 
Henriette Le Forestier
Note; This section has been corrected on receipt of further information in the comment section. As I don;t know the area or set up, please let me know if it still needs amendment.
Henriette founded The Congregation of Our Lady of Fidelity in Rouen in 1831, which subsequently set up  a Convent in Upper Norwood. This in turn founded Virgo Fidelis, a  school for girls with junior and senior sections. The senior section became a state school  which is currently performing well according to Ofsted. The Convent decided, I am guessing for financial reasons, to sell the Junior section to Lilac Sky for September 2016, at a time when the latter's other operations were closing down as its reputation was sinking. Lilac Sky, by then called LS Schools Ltd, clearly thought a name change was good for business and so became Henriette Le Forestier Schools, the junior school changing its name to match. One can only wonder what the good woman would have thought of it all! As it is the Company went into Voluntary Liquidation eight months later, in April 2017, the school closing at the same time.
 
 Liquidator's Report
When Henriette Le Forestier Schools was declared insolvent it had run up a further £928,000 of debts according to a Liquidator’s Report filed at Companies House, the school closing at the same time. The SchoolsWeek article highlights that the Liquidator’s Accounts  identified an “overdrawn director’s loan account” to company founder Mr Averre-Beeson, totalling £150,740. The investigation also found payments of £37,776 made to his partner. £30,000 will be repaid in a settlement agreement. Mr Averre-Beeson is “unable to pay the full amount due to his personal circumstances”, leaving one to wonder the purposes of the loan or other large payments made to him previously. Creditors are owed £917,000, including £375,000 to the landlord  Our Lady of Fidelity Convent;  £231,000 owed to former employees at the school; and £78,000 to the taxman. The liquidator’s report said there were “currently not funds available for preferential or unsecured creditors”. Mr Averre-Beeson is quoted as saying: “The matter is confidential, sensitive and complex. I am therefore unable to offer commentary at this moment in time.”

Eight teachers who brought an employment tribunal case in 2017 were awarded £120,766 after claims against Henriette Le Forestier School for unfair dismissal and unauthorised deduction of wages were upheld. But they could only recover the money from the government’s redundancy payments office, which usually consists of statutory redundancy pay and up to eight weeks’ arrears of salary’

Background to my Involvement
I have been credited by many with exposing the Lilac Sky scandal and raising its profile in the face of denial and pressure from Kent County Council officers who were totally taken in by the company, and publicly praised it highly.  My involvement had began when Lilac Sky Ltd, which later set up the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust, took over the management of the failed Furness Special School in Hextable in 2012, after it fell into chaos, with pupils out of control, having been  appallingly run by Kent County Council. I had already been in contact with several members of staff seeking help, but who soon reported the ways the company was ripping off the school and KCC. 

At one stage, Patrick Leeson, KCC Chief Education Officer, now retired having become Chairman of the underperforming ‘The Education People’ theoretically an ‘arms length’ company responsible for School Improvement in the county, accused me in writing of making completely unfounded allegations and scurrilous remarks as I continued my investigations.Unsurprisingly  he was unable to back up the allegations with evidence. He continued to heap praise on the company officially at KCC Education Committee Meetings, before and after his deputy left to become briefly its Managing Director. It was only after the Trust was closed down by government in 2016 that he described its behaviour as ‘outrageous’, vindicating all I had written. In  passing, he had claimed the headteacher of Furness put in by Lilac Sky was an SEN specialist but this was untrue, she was a drama teacher and after Furness was one of the many short term heads of Martello.

Kent Lilac Sky Schools
Every one of the five Kent primary schools in LSSAT: Knockhall Primary Academy; Martello Primary & Morehall Primary School; Richmond Academy & Thistle Hill Academy, suffered because of  their association with  Lilac Sky. Knockhall has never recovered and featured in a recent article following its recent Ofsted Inspection. Martello and Morehall fell into the clutches of the dreadful Turner Schools operation in Folkestone where they both remain unpopular and poorly performing schools, with an ever changing cast of headteachers, the latest Mrs Sowden-Mehta having suddenly departed this week; Richmond and Thistle Hill on the Isle of Sheppey are now both with the reputable Stour Academy Trust, which has turned round other failed schools, but these two are still hard work. Richmond Academy remains one of the lowest performers in Kent, but its recent Ofsted suggests it has now turned the corner: Leaders 'are systematically reversing past weaknesses and creating a culture of achievement in the school. The headteacher has brought stability and a renewed sense of ambition to the school'. 
 
Lilac Sky also supported the Castle Community College in Deal for KCC, as it dived from Good to Special Measures, the Principal who followed it down then being promoted within Lilac Sky to advise other schools. Subsequently, it was taken over by the equally disgraced SchoolsCompany Trust, which helped it further down until that Trust was also closed down by government for similar reasons. It has now recovered under its new name of Goodwin Academy and under new management by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust. 
 
Then there was Furness! 

Articles Relating to Lilac Sky and its successor Companies on www.kentadvice.co.uk  

Where it  all began in Kent
 
KCC Investment into Furness 
11 Key Questions About KCC incompetence and financial losses, mainly unanswered in response
 
Congratulations to Sue Rogers, February 2015
On her appointment to Lilac Sky as Managing Director, although she only remained with the company for 15 months. First look at the new Lilac Sky academies. 

Furness School closure update, February 2015

Further analysis of failures of KCC
 
Closure of Furness School. I am falsely accused by KCC of making a 'completely unfounded allegation'  and writing 'scurrilous remarks'.
 
Praise by Patrick Leeson, Fantasy Development at Knockhall Primary School. Sue Rogers again
 
Closure of LSSAT
 
The investigation is still ongoing, June 2020!
 
Examination of the large sums of money mined from LSSAT before its closure by government, the role of KCC and other matters
 
Including LSSAT being forced to disentangle from parent profit making companies
 
Exposure by new Trustees of some of the scandal, exploration of Education 101 Outstanding Education Services Ltd, out of Lilac Sky Outstanding Education Services,  introduction to Henriette Le Forestier Schools
 
Revelation that KCC has discovered Lilac Sky actions outrageous. 
 
A programme to which I contributed much of the background. 
 
The final days of the Trust as they hand over schools to other trusts - feel especially sorry for Martello Primary going to Turner Schools!   Development of: 'The Lilac Sky Philosophy'  (Guardian 2012) For-profit firms are more focused on improving a school than a new headteacher would be'.  Certainly profit making, in the case of Lilac Sky, but no signs of improvement, quite the reverse.
 
Including the sad story of  Henriette Le Forestier private school, taken over, then closed nine months later having run up debts of nearly a million pounds. 
 
how Lilac Sky made its millions. The answer to the question currently appears to be no. 
 
Revisiting KCC's role in the scandals. Mr Leeson has now gone on to Chair 'The Education' People, KCC's 'arms length' underperforming School Improvement company.
 
Self Justification of the failures. Analysis of Lilac Sky Companies.
 
ESFA had a Report in September 2019 and is preparing to publish it. Update June 2020 (not yet arrived!)

Last modified on Thursday, 18 June 2020 16:30

2 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 11 June 2020 09:18 posted by Janet Downs

    In 2012, TES published an opinion piece promoting for-profit schools. It said,

    ‘Trevor Averre-Beeson, founder of Lilac Sky Schools - an approved academy sponsor that runs the management of two schools for profit and is to take over two more from September - said …"It seems completely appropriate that if we do something successful, such as raising pupil attainment or getting a school out of special measures, we would get a bonus on a performance-related contract," Mr Averre-Beeson said. "And if we don't, we would get a fine. I think it makes the running of schools more accountable."

    On that basis, he faces a huge financial penalty for his involvement in running academies.

    https://www.tes.com/news/money-1

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 10 June 2020 22:40 posted by Edmund McCarthy

    Dear Peter
    I am a subscriber to your site and enjoy your independence of mind. I taught at Virgo Fidelis Senior School for almost eighteen years. I no longer work there. I was head of KS4 for thirteen years and went to a few training course given by T Averre-Beeson. I was always impressed- seems I was conned, like so many. In your article you say the former prep was a feeder: it was not. In the early 2000s there was a trickle of kids who came to us. In the last twelve years of Virgo Prep’s existence no children came to us. We had turned into a tough comp! As a Catholic secondary our intake was cross-Borough.
    Thanks for all you do.
    Sincerely PETER: Thank you for the correction. I don't know the area and should have checked my facts. The article is now corrected. Please let me know if it needs further amendment.

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