George Tomlinson Primary School, Leytonstone, again

A previous post (see link below) looked briefly at George Tomlinson primary school in Leytonstone, and the fears of some that it was surreptitiously being prepared for academisation.

Since then, much has changed. The school has new governors, and a new management team, the latter led by Executive Head Lynne Harrowell.

However, the sense of general unease seems if anything to have increased. Various alterations to the school’s everyday life have proved unsettling. Some teachers have left, apparently because they feared redundancy. A union representative has publicly complained of bullying. That said, it is the transformation at the top which has provoked the most comment.

Ms. Harrowell has a distinguished teaching record, and currently runs Larkswood Primary in the north of the borough, but it has not escaped notice that she is also a director of The Lime Academy Trust, a recently created private company limited by guarantee, and it is this that has set alarm bells ringing in some quarters.

Thus, an on-line petition to keep George Tomlinson under local authority control has quickly gathered some 3,700 expressions of support, many heartfelt, with the following being fairly typical:

‘George Tom has been a lovely, child-centered school and has given my children a wonderful start in life. The Lime Trust have torn the heart out of it. Children are unsettled and do not enjoy the changes they have made. Parents feel that the school is almost unrecognisable from the happy gentle place it was. All the joy has been sucked out of our school’.

Meanwhile, Councillor Grace Williams, recently appointed Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, has publicly declared as follows:

‘The appointment of a new Governing Body and the search for a new headteacher marks a new phase in the life of George Tomlinson Primary School. We fully support the school in this process and again want to reaffirm that we are not in the business of turning schools into academies…The petition asks for the school to be maintained by the local authority, calls for no involvement from Lime Trust in the school, and requests the appointment of a headteacher with no links to any academy or academy trust…I hope parents are left in no doubt the steps they are calling for are already being carried out by the new Governing Body’.

Clearly, the parents of George Tomlinson pupils and their supporters have to make up their own minds about such assurances, but a couple of observations are pertinent.

First, it is worth revisiting how this episode began. LBWF has consistently argued that the school was in some kind of crisis, and so intervention was unavoidable. As Cllr. Williams’ immediate predecessor, Mark Rusling, observed:

‘I was presented with evidence of declining standards…as well as safeguarding concerns and financial concerns. Those concerns were serious and demanded a response. We could have done nothing and trusted to the fact that all schools would become academies in due course, so standards at GT were of no concern to the local authority. I don’t believe that, and I do believe that local authorities have a role to play in education, so we acted on those concerns’.

At first sight, this explanation seems seductive, with the local authority apparently fulfilling its obligation to defend the common good. But on closer inspection, this happy picture begins to dissolve. George Tomlinson was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in 2012. Subsequently, not everything was plain sailing. It is clear that the governing body, in particular, needed strengthening. Nevertheless, whether the school truthfully could be described as descending into crisis is debatable.

LBWF’s stance appears to rest upon two confidential reports that were completed in the early months of 2016. Why and how these were commissioned remains to be established. Moreover, whether they are impartial is also unclear, as in one case the author appears to have links to The Lime Academy Trust. But the key point is obviously what they reveal about the school’s recent performance, and whether they substantiate the claims that have been made.

One of the reports remains under lock and key, but the other is now in the public domain. What surprises is its tone. For while there is a degree of criticism about some specific matters, this does not add up to the stinging indictment that might have been expected.

Take the important issue of safeguarding. LBWF’s case is that George Tomlinson was failing in this regard. Yet the report concludes as follows:

  • ‘Safeguarding Single Central Record:The SCR was viewed and is up to date and scrupulously maintained by the school business manager. The Designated Governor for safeguarding reviews this regularly (usually once every half term and certainly every term).  The admin staff’s checking of visitors at reception, both identity and DBS, is robust.
  • Policies:the safeguarding policy is on the school website along with the, E Safety policy, Behaviour, Attendance and Punctuality policy and the PHSE policy.  The policy has recently been updated to include prevention of extremism and FGM and this has been endorsed…
  • Training; ’Prevent’ training was provided recently and the focus is to ensure the principles of the Prevent training are threaded through  schemes of work.” Safer Recruitment training has been undertaken by governors and leaders and safeguarding training for staff is routinely updated.
  • E-Safety has been displayed around the school and teachers have planned and taught safety lessons.  One pupil mentioned a recent E-Safety lesson, and knew that for Cyber bullying he needed to report it to his parents if it happened at home or to a teacher if it happened at school.  A Year 6 pupil said that there had been a recent problem with social media and this had been dealt with effectively by staff’ .


Inevitably, as is the case in all such enterprises, recommendations for improvement follow, but might not most reports about most schools have said about the same?

Turning to The Lime Academy Trust, its involvement has provoked considerable comment. One issue is the nuts and bolts matter of Ms. Harrowell and her colleague’s appointment. All of the team no doubt have demanding jobs at Larkswood, so it is surprising to the mere outsider that they have the time to take on extra burdens. In addition, there is uncertainty about who is paying their wages, and how these were determined. One local councillor’s statement at a recent public meeting that it would take £500,000 to buy The Lime Academy Trust team out is hardly reassuring

More generally, it is reasonable to look more closely at what is known about The Lime Academy Trust itself.

The company is clearly ambitious, stating that its growth strategy is to operate five academies by 2017, ‘recruited from a mix of sponsorships, new provision and conversions’.

The board is drawn for the most part from the educational world, obviously, and also the performing arts.

But there is one director with extensive business experience – Marcus Orlovsky, who has held 63 directorships, of which 29 (according to Companies House) are still live.

Now Mr. Orlovsky is an interesting character. He likes to present himself as a bit off the wall, a maverick and guru. An admiring profile notes as follows about one of his conference presentations:

‘It’s hard to convey what Orlovsky says in many ways, because his presentation starts in a very stream-of-consciousness way, musing over the London skyline, the ubiquitous internet, creativity, bionic limbs, and very much more.

A favourite part of the talk is where he shows footage of a baby giggling madly as a pair of adult hands rips up paper in front of her. “That’s her father’s rejection letters for the jobs he’s applied for,” says Orlovsky tartly. The modern world is a mad place, and he’s both outraged and engaged.

But gradually his vision begins to take shape…He talks about the comet landing, shows us a photo of some children huddled together and reading, and continues: “We want to create magic. One of these is going to be the new Shakespeare, one will create craft which will land on a comet – and then be criticised if it bounces – but one of these [is] going to do that. The reality is that we can unlock things, or just allow the rain to come and wash away rubbish”’.

Strip away all the wackiness, however, and Mr. Orlovsky turns out to be a chartered accountant who (as he notes on Linkedin) has been by turn ‘Salesman/General fixer’ at Underwoods Cash Chemists, ‘Manager/Director’ at Ernst & Young, ‘Project Finance Director’ at Stanhope Properties, and ‘Director’ at Gresham Bell, before taking up his current position as ‘Director’ at Bryanston Square.

So far, so good. But there is more. Mr. Orlovsky is said to have considerable expertise in Private Finance Initiative contracts, no doubt a big plus in today’s world of primary and secondary schooling. Bryanston Square, too, has an impressive website (though the organisation’s corporate status does not appear to be specified).

The puzzle is Mr. Orlovsky’s ‘live’ directorships. Many of the companies where he is listed as a director appear never to have been active. The rest are small businesses, which only have to return very brief accounts. The following table summarises their current situation:

Name of company Number of directors including Mr. Orlovsky Net assets or (liabilities) as at last accounts filed with Companies House, £s
Bryanston Square Innovations Ltd. 2 Incorporated April 2016
Bryanston Square(Services) Ltd. 2 (108,823)
Bryanston Square Edventure Ltd. 2 Dormant
Edventure Campus Ltd. 2 1,000
Bryanston Square Foundation 2 320
Bryanston Square (Hull) Ltd. 2 (6,001)
Bryanston Square Consulting Ltd. 2 (565,105)
Bryanston Square Holdings Ltd. 2 21,235
Bryanston Square (Exeter) Ltd. (1) (Dissolved in 2010)
Occam Green Services Ltd. 2 11,626
Occam Green Holding Ltd. 2 23,636

Source: Companies House, July 2016

Mr. Orlovsky is clearly an energetic innovator and entrepreneur, who thinks beyond the box. Whether the companies which he co-directs are achieving commensurate returns remains to be seen.

At any rate, this whole situation is one that we will be keeping an eye on.

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