Major academy chain faces vote of no-confidence from staff

Education unions today launch a ballot asking if employees have confidence in the leadership of Academies Enterprise Trust

Adi Bloom

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One of the largest academy chains in the country is facing a vote of no-confidence from its staff. 

Education unions representing staff at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), which runs more than 60 schools, are today launching a ballot asking if employees have confidence in the organisation’s leadership.

This is in response to what they claim is a failure by AET to listen to staff over proposed cutbacks and restructuring. The unions say that these changes will put children and staff at serious risk. 

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Talks to address these concerns are currently taking place, mediated by conciliation service Acas. But unions claim that AET is attempting to sabotage the talks, after the trust broke an agreement to pause changes while a resolution was sought.

Jon Richards, Unison’s head of education, said: “AET is demonstrating a total lack of respect for staff. Its actions are a fundamental breach of trust. Unison now has no choice but to move to a vote of no-confidence, and consider options for further actions.”

The government has also been challenged by MPs to publish details of the £16m turnaround plan agreed between AET and the Education and Skills Funding Agency. But ministers refused to provide any information about how the £4.5 million allocated to the trust so far had been spent. 

Unions argue that the secretive nature of the deal raises questions about the conditions that AET has signed up for, in exchange for public funding. 

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Teachers’ pay progression is one of the lowest in the sector and staff workload is a severe problem. Meanwhile, AET chief executive Julian Drinkall is one of the highest-paid MAT chief execs. 

“Things can’t go on as they are. We’re asking members to show what they think of AET through a vote of no-confidence in the board and chief executive.”

And Sara Ford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “While we are fully aware of the financial pressures caused by the inadequacy of government funding, that does not excuse AET’s determination to rush changes through without due regard for the consultation and conciliation processes. 

“This will only lead to an ill-conceived implementation, which will not be in the best interests of the pupils, staff or trust.”

A spokesperson for AET said: “We are saddened that the unions have taken this stance as we have at all points made every effort to engage with them in constructive dialogue. We believe that progress was being made and have every hope that this will continue.  

“We met with union representatives immediately before the Easter weekend and offered to meet again immediately after. The first date they are available is 13 May. We look forward to those discussions and hope they will engage in a similarly constructive manner. 

“Everything we do is focused on ensuring that our schools are providing the best possible education, and it is simply untrue to say that the changes we are making are putting children or staff at risk.

“AET was previously a failing organisation – there were no financial controls, poor governance and scant education support. In short, this was an organisation in freefall that was badly letting down pupils and staff. The changes we have made have put AET onto a solid and sustainable footing. Financially, the trust broke even for the first time in five years last year, and results are improving year on year. We believe that every one of our schools should be providing an education that helps pupils go on to lead remarkable lives, and we will do everything in our power to make that vision a reality across our family.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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