Trust's plans for schools criticised by union

By Emily Pearce

Friday, February 7, 2014

 

A TRUST that runs three Isle of Wight schools has been accused of putting profits before pupils over plans to outsource support services.

Unison, which represents school support staff, slammed the plans as an attempt to privatise frontline services and warned cuts in jobs and services could follow, but the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) said the money saved would be reinvested in teaching and learning.

The plans would affect school business managers, caretakers and cleaners, finance and admin staff, librarians, ICT staff, welfare officers and staff running sports and leisure facilities in AET's 80 schools across the country.

On the Isle of Wight, AET runs Ryde and Sandown Academies and Weston Academy, Totland.

In a statement posted on its website, AET said it was seeking to form a joint venture company with another organisation to provide services more efficiently.

The contract is estimated to be worth between £200m and £400m.

According to the statement: "This does not affect teachers, school leaders or teaching assistants.

"Our principals and head teachers will remain responsible for the leadership of their academies.

"If any staff are transferred to a new legal entity under our control, their contractual terms are protected by law.

"This means salary scales, pensions and conditions of service would continue as they are now."

Describing the plans as 'an unprecedented privatisation threat,' Unison said in a bulletin issued to members: "We are concerned it will put the future of quality support services at risk — services that a critical to delivering a quality education service for pupils. Our concern, borne out of experience, is that private companies will push for cuts in jobs and services as part of their drive for profits."

Isle of Wight branch secretary Mark Chiverton estimated more than 50 Island staff could be affected. He said: "There is deep anxiety and uncertainty among staff, who are worried about their pay and conditions being eroded. There is concern about the increasing fragmentation of education services, and the difficulty of providing a good education to pupils where schools are not run as a cohesive unit."

AET denied it was privatising frontline services and said it had a duty, as a charitable trust, to ensure services were value for money.

According to the statement, no final decision on outsourcing services had been made and it would not necessarily partner with a private company. It could be a public sector organisation or a charity, it said.

Seven organisations had submitted an initial bid, according to AET, and a new provider could be appointed by September.

Reporter: emilyp@iwcpmail.co.uk

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