University Sponsorship of Academies in England

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2019 Higher Education Service Group Conference
19 September 2018

It is a matter of public concern that as a result of the Education Act 2011 in the UK Parliament, we have witnessed the acceleration of the programme to convert local authority primary and secondary schools into academies.

The failings of the academy project have been widely reported and at times have scandalised the notion of public services run for the good of our communities.

Our fellow public service workers in the primary and secondary schools system, whether organised by UNISON or other sister trade unions, have seen their terms, conditions, wages and pensions decimated in the race to provide our children’s education on the cheap.

More recently, we have seen Government incentives offered to higher education institutions to become involved in the academies system, as sponsors of individual or chains of academies, university technical colleges (UTCs) and free schools.

University links to primary and secondary education are not new and have the potential to deliver benefits in widening access to Higher Education (HE), aspiration raising for young people and fostering educational communities.

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) reported in October 2016 that the take-up of sponsorship by universities was on a relatively small scale and presented a number of unforeseen challenges.

There is the potential for shared services arrangements (i.e. security, cleaning, facilities management) to be exploited by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), which seek to combine these higher education services with those in primary and secondary schools.

Conference further notes:

As trade unionists we seek the greatest transparency of our own institutions, with the wellbeing of the workforce and students prioritised. We therefore recognise the need for school and college pupils, students and staff to seek the same.

As staff we do not stand by while our institutions seek to maximise profits at our expense – nor should we expect school staff tolerate the same. For HEIs involved in academy sponsorship there will be potential governance and management influence, which may include influence over staff terms and conditions.

The National Education Service policy framework as outlined by the Labour Party sets out a positive vision for cradle-to-grave education provision, free at the point of use, from early years to further, higher and adult education. Crucially, this calls for increased accountability in our schools, with the return of democratic, local accountability of our schools in order that they serve the local community in the public interest.

Conference calls on Higher Education Service Group (HESGE) to:

1)Gather information about the scale and scope of HE sponsored academies, UTCs and free schools.

2)Work with local university branches of UNISON to identify issues for members as a result of sponsorship activity by their HEI.

3)Re-issue policy guidance and campaigning materials relating to shared services, as pertinent to this issue.