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80 schools face academy profit grab

Union exposes £400m plot by taxpayer-funded firm for 'unprecedented privatisation' of services

A plot by the biggest taxpayer-funded academy chain to turn 80 schools into money-spinning businesses at the cost of hundreds of jobs was revealed yesterday by union Unison.

The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) has already invited bids from privateers for the chance to run a range of services for profit.

Library, cleaning, finance, administration and pupil support roles could all be outsourced, with only head teachers, teachers and teaching assistants left safe.

Unison warned that the "unprecedented privatisation" would see profits put before pupils and strip control of key services from head teachers.

The union, which represents 240,000 school support staff, said at least 500 workers could lose their jobs.

Head of education John Richards said: "Privatisation on this scale could see the head teacher lose direct control of critical services, with the potential for significant leakage of public funds into private-sector profits.

"There are countless examples of private companies moving into public services and cutting back services and jobs in their drive for profits."

A seven-year contract worth between £200 million and £400m to run all non-teaching services was hawked to privateers through the Official Journal of the European Union in December.

Unison has since been in talks with academy bosses in a bid to put the brakes on their plan but blew the whistle when negotiations failed to produce a compromise.

Mr Richards pointed out that the trust's own "morale purpose" statement reads: "We shall remain a not-for-profit organisation."

An AET spokesman said a final decision had not been made but insisted the privatisation plans will not affect the ability of head teachers to run schools.

He said: "Our aim is to seek a partner who will bring additional expertise, experience and capital to strengthen our operations.

"We will wait to see the responses received, and will make a final judgement on whether to proceed based on the best interests of our academies."

Anti Academies Alliance national secretary Alistair Smith said the plan scuppered Education Secretary Michael Gove's claims that academies give head teachers freedom.

He explained the chain was likely to be pursuing privatisation as a result of a cash shortfall caused by overexpansion.

"This is the market logic that academy chains will go down as budgets get tighter," Mr Smith said.

"There's no question here that the children will benefit.

"This is a cost-cutting measure and not about improving the quality of teaching and learning - this is about efficencies."

It was revealed last year that AET had funnelled school funds into the private business interests of its trustees and directors.

The chain pressed its academies to recruit teachers through Synarbor, an agency run by ex-chief executive David Triggs, according to the Observer.

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