Firm that pulled out of failing academy now working with RSCs

A private firm handed a government contract to judge the quality of struggling schools pulled out of running an academy after it was put in special measures by Ofsted, Schools Week has found.

Lilac Sky multi-academy trust pulled out of running Tabor Academy, in Essex, in January last year, just months after the school was put into special measures by Ofsted.

The trust had run the school for nearly two years and had pledged to make it “outstanding”. But inspectors found the trust, governors and senior leaders had “failed to halt the underachievement” of students.

But Schools Week can now reveal that Lilac Sky Schools – an education consultancy founded by the people behind the Lilac Sky academy trust – has three advisers contracted to help regional schools commissioners (RSCs) drive up standards.

They will be called on to help “deliver the department’s aim to ensure high educational standards”. The DfE aims to appoint as many contractors as possible to the pool, but only those who are assigned by RSCs are paid.

The contract states bidders must be “high-calibre-contractors with a proven track record in developing and leading outstanding schools and/or multi academy trusts”.

Janet Downs, a campaigner for local schools, said: “It seems odd the Department for Education should has chosen an organisation with a poor track record to work as an adviser to RSCs. It raises questions about the robustness of the requisition process.”

Lilac Sky has run 21 schools – including nine of its own academies – since 2009. One of the firm’s founders, Trevor Averre-Beeson, said it had taken the majority of those schools out of special measures within four school terms. Another of its academies was judged “good with outstanding features” by Ofsted in December.

Mr Averre-Beeson added: “We are very well-placed to work with schools and teachers to support their development.”

Lilac Sky took over Tabor Academy, a secondary school in Braintree, when it became an academy in January 2013.

Ofsted inspectors visited in November 2014 and placed it in special measures. It rated the school “inadequate” in nearly every category, apart from behaviour and safety of pupils.

Inspectors said a “significant group” of teachers did not have confidence in the leadership of the academy.

They also found senior leaders did not tackle teacher attitudes, leading to ineffective teaching for disadvantaged pupils and said the academy evaluated itself too generously.

The trust then pulled out of running the school, citing “current circumstances and the feelings of parents, staff and the community”. The Loxford School Trust, based in Ilford, took over last April.

It was also reported that Lilac Sky had lost the sponsorship of a primary school due to open later that year in Chelmsford, following the Ofsted report.

In response, Mr Averre-Beeson said: “In our last year running Tabor school, we were delighted the exam results rose, demonstrating the success of our formula despite the challenges that existed.”

Lilac has three advisers that operate in two RSC regions – north-east London and east of England, and north-west London and south-central.

Mr Averre-Beeson said the advisers are “highly qualified and successful leaders who have run outstanding schools”.

The former headteacher, who took Islington Green School out of special measures in nine months, founded Lilac Sky with Jane Fielding in 2009.

He said the firm had trained more than 3,000 teachers on its outstanding teacher programme, 91 per cent of whom had improved an Ofsted grade from good to outstanding in one term of coaching.


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