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Seven unions preparing for industrial action against Britain’s largest schools academy chain

Pupils at Academies Enterprise Trust schools are being put at risk due to a cuts programme aimed at saving £2.6m, the unions say

SEVEN trade unions are preparing for industrial action against Britain’s biggest schools academy chain.

London-based Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) runs 66 schools in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Gloucester and Milton Keynes.

The unions say AET is putting pupils at risk through a cuts programme aimed at saving £2.6 million, involving shedding jobs, keeping wages low and outsourcing work to private firms.

General unions GMB, Unite and Unison and teaching unions the National Education Union (NEU), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), National Association of Schoolmaster/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) and the Association of School and College Leaders accuse the trust of refusing to negotiate.

The unions say they have been forced to seek the involvement of conciliation service Acas by AET’s refusal to engage in meaningful negotiation on a variety of issues.

They accused the trust of being unwilling 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 front-line school support staff.

Workload across the AET schools has increased to such an extent that staff are becoming ill, say the unions, despite repeated warnings to management.

The trust also refuses to release details of financial support that it has received from the government, they said.  

In 2017 AET cut dozens of jobs in a bid to slash £1.4m from its schools’ estates budget, which unions say has put children’s safety at risk.

NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “We’re asking AET to rethink its entire approach to industrial relations and engage in meaningful talks at Acas.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates argued that AET figures show very low numbers of teachers are receiving the pay progression that they are entitled to.

John Hakes of the NAHT said: “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.”

An AET spokesperson said: “We are disappointed to have received notice from the unions and have immediately contacted Acas to set up talks over the Easter period with a view to resolving these issues as soon as possible.

“We do not recognise many of the comments that are made and hope that, in the interests of our pupils and staff, these will be resolved quickly.”

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