Academy trust linked to minister clashes with council over free school closure

Janet Downs's picture

Free school run by Floreat Education Academies Trust closed at the end of term 

Floreat Brentford, a primary free school, opened in September 2015 in temporary accommodation on the ground floor of eight-story Trico House, Brentford.  The school’s buildings were originally to be sited on the Brent Lea Recreation Ground but this was changed at the last minute following a public backlash

FEAT founded by Lord Shaughnessy, junior minister for health, and former Cameron adviser

Floreat Brentford was set up by Floreat Education Academies Trust (FEAT), a small multi-academy trust (MAT) which now has two primary schools* and two more in the pipeline.   It was founded by James (now Lord) O’Shaughnessy, junior minister for health, Government Whip in the Lords and former adviser to David Cameron.  He supports allowing for-profit education providers to run schools.    

Former directors include Ofsted chief and former Gove adviser

Former directors of FEAT include Sam Freedman, former Michael Gove adviser who has recently joined ARK , Amanda Spielman, now Ofsted chief, and controversial principal Patricia Sowter.  

Closure announced in January after meeting with schools’ minister Lord Agnew

On 15 January 2018, FEAT met with schools’ minister Lord Agnew to discuss Floreat Brentford.     On 9 February, FEAT announced it would close  citing problems with premises and ‘critically low’ funding.

Council and FEAT blame each other

Hounslow Council and FEAT blamed each other for the closure .  The Council issued a strongly-worded statement saying it was FEAT and the Department for Education who were responsible.  In a separate press release, the Council, which is now responsible for finding alternative places for 70 school children, said ‘this is another case of the Government’s free school model failing and letting down our children, which is unacceptable to us.’ 

FEAT’s financial woes apparent earlier

FEAT indicated it was struggling in October 2017 when it started to investigate plans to join another MAT.    A proposed merger with Avanti did not go ahead and FEAT has announced it will continue as an independent trust

But problems with FEAT may have been present before Autumn 2016.  Company house records show FEAT issued a notice for compulsory strike-off on 22 March 2016.  This was withdrawn four days later. 

FEAT says it’s important to maintain private donations and grants

FEAT's accounts for year ending 31 August 2017 said it was 'important that the trust maintains its further sources of funding including private donations, project grants and school pre-opening grants'.  This is an admission by a government minister that government education funding is inadequate. 

FEAT is sponsored by the charity Floreat Education.  Its accounts for year ending 31 August 2017 (available from the Charities Commission) said it received income of £379,934 in the year ending 31 August 2017.  It spent £83,139 of this.


*For some unknown reason, Floreat Wandsworth and Floreat Montague, are not free schools but sponsored academies.  Floreat Brentford was FEAT’s only free school.

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Celia Blair's picture
Mon, 30/07/2018 - 19:36

Floreat Wandsworth and Floreat Montague were built to provide essential primary school places.
In 2013 David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools, announced the outcome of applications to the Targeted Basic Need programme.
Local Authorities had to make a case for this funding.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/07/2018 - 08:51

Thanks Celia - as you know (and I didn't), in 2013 Wandsworth council welcomed the new primary academy and said Floreat was its preferred sponsor because it had a strong management team including the executive principal of a successfully academy chain.  That would have been Patricia Sowter, then executive principal of Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) who was a favourite of then Education Secretary Michael Gove.  His support even extended to promoting Sowter's false back story which claimed she'd turned Cuckoo Hall from inadequate to outstanding.  Not true - Cuckoo Hall emerged from special measures about three years before Sowter was head and its last Ofsted before her arrival said it was a good school.  (If you search her name on this site you'll find CHAT was a troubled academy chain - it's now under a Financial Notice to Improve and its lead school, Cuckoo Hall, is now inadequate).

I found a newspaper report about Floreat and the new school in Wandsworth.  I noticed you'd left a couple of comments including one which cited a council report which had reservations about Floreat's bid to use the Atheldene site.   Was the school eventually built on this site?

This is where local knowledge is useful.  If you hadn't commented on the other thread about Floreat I would have been unaware of what had been going on with this academy trust.  Thank you.

Celia Blair's picture
Tue, 31/07/2018 - 12:36

I now hear from Wokingham Borough Council that,

”The school was due to open in September 2018 however there were insufficient children registered to enable the school to open. Subsequently Floreat Multi Academy Trust decided to withdraw their commitment to managing the school. In the autumn term Wokingham Borough Council will be inviting interested parties to put in an application to lead and manage the school. A new Trust will be appointed to manage the school from September 2019.
This is the reason there is no logon/ access to Floreat Silver Meadow at this time.
I hope this answers your questions but if you have any other queries please contact Patricia Davies Head of Education.”

It makes sense that Wokingham will now be offering the newly built school to a MAT or similar that has a secure financial basis to serve the needs of children’s education and welfare. Floreat cannot offer this currently.

Celia Blair's picture
Tue, 31/07/2018 - 12:38

Yes, the brand new school was built and is doing well. The teachers and current head have managed to achieve a "GOOD" OFSTED rating. (Sadly neither the CEO or "founder" O'Shaughnessy have acknowledged this success.)
Many of my neighbours' children are pupils at Floreat Wandsworth. Parents are busy raising funds for the school and supporting it in practical ways - e.g. gardening.
So I hope Wandsworth Council takes it over if FEAT hits the buffers.
Now that Wokingham isn't opening Silver Meadows with Floreat's management they are stuck with just 2 schools in the "chain|".

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/07/2018 - 12:52

Thanks, Celia.  Your local knowledge is very helpful.

Celia Blair's picture
Sun, 03/02/2019 - 11:15

The "founder" of my local academy wrote to persude Gove to make schools for profit.
He is now a"Lord" and his trust "chain" has shrunk to 2 schools. One closed in the summer of 2018.
According to this year’s accounts the CEO still earns a massive £165,367 in 2018 and it was £163,790 in 2017.

Not bad for overseeing 2 schools and closing one?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 03/02/2019 - 14:07

Policy Exchange has a track record of asking for schools to be run for profit.   In 2010, just before the election when Gove was shadow education secretary, PX published a document called 'Blocking the Best' which argued for profit-making schools.  Gove was present at its launch and said he would let groups like Serco run schools if they wanted to do so.

When I suggested on another blog that the point of the academies programme was to eventually allow for-profit schools, I was told I was a conspiracy theorist.  

Celia Blair's picture
Tue, 18/06/2019 - 11:13

"Will Janet Hilary still be working for our schools? GLF has a CEO, Jon Chaloner, who like Mrs Hilary, has a headship background and is a National Leader of Education. Mrs Hilary will hand over to Jon Chaloner, ensuring the very best interests of the Floreat schools are protected. Mrs Hilary is keen for parents and staff to know that she is delighted to have steered the Floreat schools to a secure home where they have a bright future. She leaves Floreat on the very best of terms with the Floreat Board and staff/parent community. Mrs Hilary leads a network of some of the UK's best primary school leaders and she will continue to share their system-leading expertise with the Floreat schools. She will write a personal letter to parents and staff in due course."

Celia Blair's picture
Tue, 18/06/2019 - 11:18

According to Floreat’s accounts the CEO took a massive £165,367 in 2018 and it was £163,790 in 2017.
Not bad for overseeing 2 schools and closing one?
Handing over the schools to GLF will save this cost.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 21/06/2019 - 15:35

The recent edition of Private Eye featured the closure of FEAT.  The paper highlighted the amount of public money spent on a chain where one school had closed and others not opened.  

Celia Blair's picture
Fri, 21/06/2019 - 16:34

My son has a Private Eye subscription so I will see that complete article soon.
A local Wandsworth councillor drew our attention to the article then I saw that the TES etc. had reported some of it too.
This project of James O'Shaughnessy's has been fraught with problems from the outset, as those of us who have followed its lack of progress have seen time and again.
I am hopeful that the new MAT will benefit my local Wandsworth Floreat pupils because so many of my neighbour's children attend. Wandsworth was so short of primary school places that some very young children were obliged to travel to schools in Tooting by bus each day. Established schools in the Earlsfield neighbourhood were full to capacity with extra buildings erected on playground space etc.
The waste of money caused by FEAT is shameful.

Celia Blair's picture
Fri, 12/07/2019 - 22:28

Celia Blair's picture
Sat, 09/11/2019 - 10:20

"Meanwhile Tory peer James O’Shaughnessy rejoined Portland Communications over summer as a member of its advisory council."

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