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 head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants and school support staff – have issued the David Ross Education Trust (DRET) with a final warning after a failure to agree 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 just as the trust is increasing 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.
Unite national officer Fiona Farmer said: “Unite condemns the action of DRET in the strongest possible terms and urges its founder David Ross to put these disruptive proposals ‘on hold’ so that constructive talks can be held with the unions.
“Academies were ‘sold’ to parents as beacons of educational excellence, but the latest development threatens the quality of children’s education at this trust, as well as our members’ employment. DRET’s reputation is being tarnished.”
UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: “Academies were meant to give schools more control, yet across the DRET chain, head teachers, 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.”
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 quick end to the dispute."
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.
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.