Rush for academy status sparks crisis talks and urgent warnings

11th June 2010 at 01:00
The Government says more than 1,000 schools are keen to make the switch, but fears are growing over the impact on pay and provision

Education unions have held crisis talks about the impact of the expected academies boom on the pay and conditions of teachers and support staff.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) convened the meeting of senior officers after the Government announced that more than 1,000 schools have already expressed interest in shifting to academy status.

Although many academies use national pay scales as a guide, they are free to pay as they wish and offer bonuses or extra money for increased hours.

The new Academies Bill will allow all 600 secondary schools, 2,000 primaries and 300 special schools rated "outstanding" by Ofsted to be pre-approved to reopen as academies.

Before the general election, teaching unions mounted vociferous opposition to plans to increase the number of academies, with the NUT vowing to hold mass walk-outs to prevent them opening.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, also recently described academies and "free schools" as a "recipe for educational inequality and social segregation".

Iain Murray, senior policy officer for the TUC, said the meeting had been an opportunity to "discuss strategy" before major decisions were made by its executive.

Officers will also discuss the threat that the new academies pose to plans to create a national pay structure for some 400,000 school support staff.

The new School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB) hopes plans to create a national pay scale based on around 100 different job profiles will offer a fairer system of remuneration for some of education's most poorly paid workers.

The new Government is not expected to axe the project entirely, but having large numbers of schools opting out of local authority control could mean national pay scales for teaching assistants, bursars and others become meaningless.

Christina McAnea, joint secretary of the SSSNB and head of education at Unison, said: "Anything we agree and arrange could be dashed by the back door as the academies are expanded.

"There's an air of uncertainty with everything."

Even with the Government's backing, the implementation of a new pay structure looks set to be delayed because of the sheer immensity of the task.

Shortly before the election, the body sought a year-long extension to its May 28 deadline to write detailed job profiles and a pay structure to accompany them.

The plan is now to have the system fully rolled out in all local authority-maintained schools by April 2012, rather than 2011. Job profiles are set to be piloted in 750 schools in ten local authorities this term.

Brian Strutton, joint secretary of the SSSNB for the GMB union, said: "The May deadline was always unrealistic, given the sheer complexity of what school support staff do. Designing a large number of profiles has been a very, very big task."

He said creating a consistent national pay structure with local flexibility should appeal to the new Government as the current locally devised systems were "phenomenally inefficient".

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