Unions issue final warning to school academy chain over cutbacks

An academy chain with schools in the East Midlands and Yorkshire & Humberside is facing possible action from eight education unions over plans to axe support staff.

The unions – representing headteachers, teachers, teaching assistants and school support staff – have issued the David Ross Education Trust (DRET) with a final warning after the failure to reach an agreement over proposed cuts. Talks will now take place at conciliation service ACAS.

The chain is proposing to cut nearly £1m in funding from school budgets and up to 40 jobs from across its 32 primary and secondary schools.

In an unprecedented move, the eight unions have written to DRET’s founder David Ross urging him to put planned cuts on hold. The changes come after the trust has already increased charges to schools for services such as payroll and IT.

A survey of employees across the academy chain suggests staff believe the proposed redundancies will damage the smooth running of schools, and harm pupils’ education.

With fewer staff like caretakers, receptionists and administrative staff on hand to deal with problems, teaching assistants would be regularly called out of the classroom, say unions, which would be hugely disruptive to lessons.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Academies were meant to give schools more control, yet across the DRET chain, headteachers, parents and staff have been misled. Vital jobs will be lost, extra work created, pupils disrupted and overworked staff put under even greater pressure.”

Rachelle Wilkins, GMB lead officer for DRET, said: “The proposed redundancies are causing morale to sink through the floor, while workload and stress are going through the roof. School staff are challenging changes they know will damage pupils’ education. The employees at risk are vital to the smooth running of schools and staff tell us the plans won’t work.”

National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “DRET’s proposals will not be welcomed by parents who know the value of support staff in their children’s schools. It’s essential the academy trust does not go ahead with its proposal but opens up constructive talks with unions at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary Geoff Barton said: “We have no alternative but to issue this formal written warning to signal our deep concerns about the unacceptable decisions and inadequate communication emanating from the DRET. We hope that this matter will now be resolved quickly.”

Unite national officer Fiona Farmer said: “Unite urges David Ross to put these disruptive proposals on hold so constructive talks can be held. Academies were sold to parents as beacons of educational excellence, but this latest development threatens the quality of children’s education as well as our members’ employment.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “NAHT’s members are concerned about the detrimental impact these proposals could have for both safeguarding and health and safety in the schools in this trust. We would like to see a swift and sensible resolution for the good of all concerned.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, said: “The impact has not been fully evaluated. There’s a risk support staff will lose their jobs and their roles will be transferred to teachers. Teachers and support staff are part of the team supporting pupils. It’s not acceptable to cut jobs nor expect teachers, already under severe workload pressure, to pick up extra work.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “Cutting support staff would mean less support for children who need most help and put extra pressure on other staff. DRET has continually failed to communicate and provide the information needed. We hope the planned talks can bring about a swift resolution.”

Notes to editors:
– There are eight unions involved – UNISON, GMB, Unite, ASCL, NAHT, NASUWT, the NUT and ATL.
– DRET has increased the amount it charges schools to £3.4m to provide central services such as site supervision and human resources.

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk
Joe Lewis T: 0207 121 5255 M: 07970 863 411 E: j.lewis5@unison.co.uk