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Wednesday, 30 September 2020 20:30

Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust and SchoolsCompany: Why is the Government resisting publication of Investigations?

The appalling stories of these two Academy Trusts, eventually closed down by the government, both demonstrated shocking management practices, with a great deal of money vanishing along the way. Both have both been the subject of government investigations which began over two years ago and are still not completed. In September 2019 we learned that the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT) investigation was finished but that publication was held up for ‘fact-checking' which is apparently continuing a year later, suggesting an awful lot of facts! For SchoolsCompany, I am told that ‘due process is ongoing with regard to this investigation’, two years after it started! You will find copies of two recent letters from the DfE to me here confirming what are surely unacceptable delays given the amount of money mislaid. 

I have written extensively about both Academy Trusts previously and it is clear that government failure to act when their failings first came to light has played a significant part in both the appalling standards which children endured in the Trusts' schools and the large financial rewards accruing to those in charge. Perhaps this disgraceful delay in releasing the facts of the financial finagling is so that the whole thing can be swept under the carpet and the millions of pounds which were lost through wrongly pumping them into the two companies forgotten. No one will ever be held to account for the dodgy dealings of the companies behind both Trusts and the appalling treatment of children under their care, especially at SchoolsCompany. Meanwhile, the Trust leaders have gone on their way rejoicing without even an acknowledgement of regret.

Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust
I first mentioned Lilac Sky on this site in 2012 when KCC having completely failed with the special Furness School (what a horror story that was) ‘now appears to have given up and handed over temporary responsibility for the school to a private contractor, Lilac Sky Schools, presumably for a large fee’. At this time the company was just getting into its stride, eventually sending the school into debt to the tune of £1.63 million, Kent County Council money which was subsequently written off. I have tracked the story ever since, including documenting the unconditional support to LSSAT offered by KCC, whose Chief Education Officer accused me in writing of making 'completely unfounded allegations and scurrilous remarks' about the Council and its officers when my criticisms were at their height. In the event, he was unable to substantiate this as they were all factually based and subsequently, he was forced to describe their conduct as 'outrageous', but only after the government closed LSSAT and its nine schools down. One of a total of my 14 articles dedicated to exposing the rottenness of the Lilac Sky organisation and entitled ‘Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust: Will anyone be held to account?’ summarises the financial manipulations of the Trust. The four companies behind the Trust with their ever-changing names whilst busily mining money form a continuous background to the story. All four came to a dubious end, variously: Voluntary Liquidation; Struck-Off; Non-Filing Of Accounts; Liquidated Petition of HMRC; and Dissolved, after funds were extracted from them. I have summarised their stories, accompanied by a quite bizarre self-justification of his activities by the Trust founder, here. My final article ‘Lilac Sky Academy Trust: Further Financial Malpractice Exposed’ was written in June this year as a Liquidators Report into one of the successor companies identified large sums of money again being extracted.

It's hardly surprising that the Investigation Report has not yet surfaced, as there are presumably too many government failures to monitor and control the financial dealings to handle.

My first article mentioning this organisation appeared in 2014, when a Lilac Sky company joined forces with SchoolsCompany to help take the then Castle Community College from Outstanding under Ofsted down to Special Measures, and followed up by a second article here. As a reward, the government awarded it the school as a Sponsored Academy. SchoolsCompany also ran three Alternative Provision Academies in Devon with once again, large sums of money vanishing from the system, as I explained in a further article in 2018. This charitable Trust was in the hands of eleven trustees, all of whom paid themselves salaries of up to £80,000 for their services. The article also looks at a Financial Notice to Improve served on the Trust which is scathing in its findings, including once again the mining of funds directly to the Founder and the sponsoring company.

Back in February, a BBC SW Investigation reported that police were investigating the finances of Schools Company. Two years ago, SchoolsWeek published a scathing article on the safety of pupils at the three Devon PRUs, quoting reports and government documents describing quite shocking conditions, expanded upon in other media reports. The Trust also had GCSE results cancelled in its schools following allegations of manipulating the outcomes and was claiming funds for non-existing pupils at the Devon Units (6 pupils instead of the 45 claimed for at one site). The Trust central organisation was overcharging schools with a very high levy of 10% to manage its affairs, as distinct from the 5% charged by many. According to Local Schools Network (also see below) ‘The trust owed £5.7m to the DfE, accounts show. Liability for this has been partly transferred to trusts which took over SCT academies.  WAVE MAT promised to repay £250k while The Thinking Schools Academy Trust, which took over the Goodwin Academy, Deal, accepted liability for £2.6m.  The remaining £3m has been written off’. The CEO and founder of SchoolsCompany was paid £70,000 for his part-time role in 2015-16, but before the crash increased this by 50% to £105,000 the following year. At the same time he was Director of six other companies, mainly education-related, but all now dissolved.

A fascinating note from the Minutes of SchoolsCompany Board Meeting of March 2018 relating to the controversial new school in Thanet, records that: “This would normally have gone through the free school program but wave 13 of this has been delayed. Kent LA would like to work with Schools Company Trust and the RSC directly on this to fast track the process.”  You will find my latest article on the new school here. What an appalling record KCC has with its closeness to both these two disgraced academy Trusts and related companies over the years.

Local Schools Network
This campaigning website was the face of a company set up in 2010, with the aim of promoting the excellence and achievements of local schools and informing the public about key issues affecting them, but initially being a polemic anti-private and anti grammar school site. Amongst the four founders were Melissa Benn, an education political activist and journalist and Fiona Millar, a journalist on the Guardian, both having been heavily involved in  Comprehensive Future, although I am sure not involved in approving the recent use of false data to advance their cause. In recent years, the website has been driven by Janet Downs, who has focused on the problems of academies, and government policy and practice,  who I first got to know (remotely) over the scandals of SchoolsCompany. Since then we have corresponded irregularly and it was a great loss when Janet decided to step down in March. Her final page of articles shows a massive work rate compared to myself and a wide and fair understanding of education issues. It was good to receive a correction to the above article on SchoolsCompany from Janet, as this was a scandal we had both worked on extensively together and separately. Since March, the website sadly appears to have become defunct, although there are still dragons to slay.  
Last modified on Friday, 08 January 2021 07:02

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