Savings urgent, academy trust claims, as unions hit out at caretaker cuts
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Union leaders claim a decision by academy chiefs to lay off caretakers at schools in Suffolk and Essex ‘puts children at risk’.
The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) announced plans to form a ‘single support structure’ for managing estates and buildings at its 66 schools – including academies in Felixstowe, Walton-on-the-Naze, Witham, Frinton-on-Sea and Clacton-on-Sea.
It could see schools grouped into clusters of up to six – based on proximity – overseen by an operations supervisor, with assistants providing site services.
Bosses said they aimed to ‘achieve cost savings’, concentrate resources on the front-line, and enable heads and principals to focus on delivering education, rather than running buildings.
The AET, which runs Felixstowe Academy; Langer Primary Academy, in Felixstowe; Hamford Primary Academy, in Walton-on-the-Naze; Witham’s Maltings Academy and New Rickstones Academy; Tendring Technology College, in Frinton-on-Sea, and Clacton Coastal Academy, thinks changes will save £2.6m a year.
Unions said plans would lead to at least 34 redundancies across 66 primary, special and secondary academies – and that taking management of site staff and estates budgets away from schools would undermine the ability of heads and principals to make urgent decisions in the best interests of pupils and staff.
Sharon Wilde, of the GMB union – one of eight to criticise plans – called for a halt to the scheme in favour of a ‘proper period of genuine consultation with schools, staff, and parents’.
She said: “It is completely unacceptable that our dedicated members should be asked to pay the price for this academy chain’s mistakes with ill-thought through cuts to front line jobs at the heart of our communities.
“These controversial plans are putting children at risk.”
AET said it was consulting affected staff, and that undue delay would reduce urgently needed savings.
Andrew Redmond, AET estates and facilities management boss, argued caretakers and facilities management staff would still have a ‘very close alignment and loyalty with schools they serve’.
“But we are changing their line management arrangements, and we are introducing a greater degree of flexibility so that one team can work across several schools and relieve the pressure points more effectively,” he added.