Education unions warn academy trusts over cuts

The UK’s largest academy chain faces a potential dispute with seven education unions over job cuts, low wages and outsourcing.

The UK’s largest academy chain faces a potential dispute with seven education unions [1] over job cuts, low wages and outsourcing.

The unions have now registered a failure to agree with London-based Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) which means the trust now has to halt all cuts and outsourcing to allow for last ditch talks at conciliation service ACAS.

Unions have been forced into this step by AET’s refusal to engage in meaningful negotiation over a variety of issues.

These include AET’s unwillingness to provide essential financial information on its plans for its schools, outsourcing of school services, holding down of teacher pay progression, failure to tackle workload and cuts to frontline school support staff.

Workload across the trust has increased to such an extent staff are becoming ill – despite repeated warnings, say the unions.

AET is also refusing to release details of the recent financial support it received from the government, including the full conditions it signed up to in return for this money.

Questions are now even being asked in Parliament about this funding deal and the lack of transparency around it.

Schools across the UK are affected – including those in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Gloucester and Milton Keynes. [See note 2 for list of affected schools]

In 2017 AET cut dozens of jobs in a bid to slash £1.4 million from its schools’ estates budget –which unions say put children’s safety at risk. [2]

Sharon Wilde, GMB National Officer for Schools, said:
“Once again our hard working members are paying the price for AET’s mistakes. These cuts will put children’s lives at risk and we simply cannot allow that to happen.

“The trust is pursuing a policy of rampant outsourcing while creating a working environment so stressful it is literally making our members ill.

“AET needs to stop hiding its financial documents and come clean so we can have a proper discussion about the future of the trust.”

Jon Richards, UNISON head of education, said:
“The trust’s increasingly reckless approach to running its schools is a huge cause for concern.

“Cuts have placed intolerable pressure on support staff and the effects are being felt in the classroom.

“The proposed outsourcing of support staff jobs will make a bad situation worse.

“Parents, staff and pupils all deserve much better. AET needs to get its act together and quickly.”

Sara Ford, Deputy Director of Policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“We are concerned that AET’s plans to outsource school services and cut school support staff will leave schools without the level of support they need to be able to focus on what matters most – their pupils.

“We are fully aware of the financial pressures caused by the inadequacy of government funding, but AET is attempting to rush these changes through without enough thought, and we are calling on it to pause the process in order to consider the implications in more detail.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, National Education Union:
“The negotiating environment has deteriorated over the past year as AET races to the bottom.

“Teachers’ pay progression is one of the lowest in the sector, IT staff are being outsourced with few guarantees and staff workload is a severe problem.

“We’re asking AET to rethink its entire approach to industrial relations and engage in meaningful talks at ACAS.”

Jim Kennedy, Unite national officer, said:
“AET is an unaccountable organisation funded by the taxpayer operating without any effective checks and balances.

“Workers are directly suffering the consequences of AET slashing its budget, which is harming the health of staff.

“AET needs to stop playing games, provide the necessary financial information and enter into meaningful negotiations.”

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:
“The figures provided by AET show very low numbers of teachers are receiving the pay progression they are entitled to.

“It is simply unacceptable for AET to actively withhold pay progression for hundreds of teachers whilst publicly stating how the trust is improving and some senior employees receive bumper bonuses.”

John Hakes, NAHT Head of Representation and Bargaining, said:
“It is extremely disappointing that AET are behaving in such a manner.

“School leaders remain unconvinced that outsourcing will bring any benefits to their school or add to the learning experience for their pupils.

“It has already led to increased workload and stress for school leaders and AET need to rethink their approach.”


Notes to editors
[1] The seven unions involved are GMB, UNISON, Unite, ASCL, NAHT, NASUWT and NEU.
[2] See attached spreadsheet