Private school closes 9 days early for Easter due to cashflow issues

A private school bought by the founder of a collapsed academy chain has told parents it will close more than a week early for Easter because it is running out of money.

Parents and staff at Henriette Le Forestier preparatory school, in Croydon, have been told they will break up on Wednesday – nine days before the scheduled final day before Easter on Friday, 31st.

A letter sent to parents, seen by Schools Week, states a drop in pupil numbers and parents not paying their fees on time has caused financial problems. The letter states that parents need to pay up, and extra investment secured, to ensure a “sustainable future”.

The £9,000-a-year private school was purchased last year by a firm run by Trevor Averre-Beeson, who co-founded the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT).

The trust was closed down by the government, with its nine schools rebrokered to other academy trusts last year, following poor performance at some schools, and concerns over finance issues. Averre-Beeson had previously stood down as trust chief executive in 2015.

These monies are essential to ensure staff are paid this month

Parents at the Henriette Le Forestier preparatory school are now concerned the school may not reopen. Schools Week understands some parents plan to meet next week to discuss setting up their own company to buy the school.

But Averre-Beeson, director of Henriette Le Forestier (HLF) Schools (which runs the private school), said he is in talks with a potential investment partner that could secure the school’s future.

Averre-Beeson, in a letter sent to parents on Monday, stated the number of pupils at the school had fallen from 121 last summer to 84, which had a “significant impact on its financial sustainability”.

But Averre-Beeson also blamed parents, stating there was £75,000 of outstanding fees for this term.

The letter read: “I have asked Mrs Pollard [the headteacher] to communicate with those parents this week in order that they pay their outstanding balance. These monies are essential in order to ensure the staff are paid this month.”

The letter then adds the school will close early as a “precaution” to “consolidate and mitigate resource issues”.

Before the holdings, pupils were due to take part in an Easter bonnet parade and also a trip to the Chessington World of Adventures theme park, according to a school newsletter.

A parent said the theme park trip was still due to go ahead, but it’s unclear if the bonnet parade will take place.

The letter said that talks are ongoing with a “very successful private school provider” to secure future investment.

It stated: “This new investment is essential to the continued sustainability of the school along with the reliable payment of fees by parents.

“These two factors need to work together in order for the school to re- open in the summer term with a sustainable future.”

Schools Week understands there are no restrictions on private school closing earlier than planned and if the closure is temporary no notice needs to be given to parents.

Averre-Beeson did not respond to questions from Schools Week, including around whether staff would still be paid during the closure period.

Guidelines from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union on states that private school staff are entitled to be paid notice in accordance with their contract, and the school is bound by statutory redundancy provisions.

Averre-Beeson is listed as the sole director of HLF Schools, which was renamed from Lilac Sky Schools on August 31 last year.

The company previously provided central services, leadership and senior staff totalling more than £800,000 to the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust, which ran 9 schools, before the services were stopped in 2015.

Averre-Beeson said he voluntarily took the decision to to stop providing services to the trust from the private company in order to “avoid any perceived conflicts of interests”. He also stepped down as chief executive of the trust.

The Henriette Le Forestier school was called Virgo Fidelis before the takeover.

Sister Bernadette Davey, headteacher of the Virgo Fidelis convent senior school, said its junior school had been leased on a 25-year deal to Averre-Beeson.

She told Schools Week last year: “The trustees made this decision as we have many commitments and we are sure that the school is in safe hands for the future.”

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