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Unison criticises Ormiston Academies Trust over staff restructuring proposals that could lead to cuts in support staff across schools

Trade unionists have sharply criticised a major academy chain, over proposals that could see cuts to support staff – but the trust says it is irresponsible to suggest it would compromise on health and safety.

Ormiston Academies Trust, which manages 38 schools, including Ormiston Sudbury Academy in Tudor Road, has confirmed a consultation has begun on current staffing and operational structures, in order to ensure they are “as efficient as possible”.

But the plan has come under fire from Unison, the workers’ trade union, which fears cuts to school support staff, including caretaking and maintenance roles, would increase safety risks for pupils and staff.

Ormiston Sudbury Academy.... PICTURE: Mecha Morton. .. (20625169)
Ormiston Sudbury Academy.... PICTURE: Mecha Morton. .. (20625169)

The union claims more than 130 posts across the chain’s schools would be affected, including a number of information and communication technology (ICT) staff, whom it says will learn their fate just before Christmas.

Tracey Sparkes, Unison’s head of schools in the east of England, argued that not enough thought had been given to the health, safety and welfare impacts of cutting caretaking and maintenance jobs.

The union has now called for the trust to place its plans on hold until a full assessment and proper consultation with workers and union representatives can take place, stating the current consultation period “simply isn’t long enough”.

In response, Ormiston Academies Trust said no decision has been made while the consultation remains ongoing, but it has denied that any staff reductions would be anywhere near the figure given by Unison.

The trust also insisted it is making provisions to ensure that the highest health and safety standards are maintained.

Unison says the positions under threat at Ormiston schools are responsible for duties such as carrying out fire safety checks, ensuring fire alarms and escape routes are maintained and conducting assessments to make sure school buildings are free of hazardous materials, including asbestos.

But the union claims caretaking and maintenance responsibilities would be dealt with by “a slimmed-down force” working across multiple schools from next April, if the plans went through.

Mrs Sparkes said: “Employees crucial to the smooth running of schools are being pushed out so that a trust, which paid its chief executive £184,160 in 2018, can save on the salaries of caretakers, maintenance workers and ICT staff.

“Time and time again, we’ve seen large organisations impose cost-cutting measures that sound good in the boardroom, but, in the real world, lead to poorer services, low morale, unemployment and, in this case, safety risks.

“Ormiston must halt its plans now and set aside a more realistic amount of time to consult with unions about a plan that affects workers, pupils and parents in Suffolk. That’s the very least it can do.”

In response, a spokeswoman for Ormiston Academies Trust said: “Our Transforming Our Trust programme will enable us to do even more and make an even bigger positive difference to pupils, both inside and outside the classroom.

“As a financially responsible charity, which is absolutely committed to serving its pupils, we have opened a consultation on the current staffing and operational structures, so they are as efficient as possible, while ensuring the 29,000 children we support continue to receive the best possible educational opportunities.

“The process to date has, of course, included provision for the most robust health and safety standards going forward – nothing is more important than ensuring health and safety is of the highest standard, and that will remain the case.

“It is irresponsible and entirely wrong to even suggest we would compromise on this.

“No decisions on the future structure have been made, because we are still in a consultation period with our staff and trade unions.

“We are very keen to hear the views of all interested parties – but we are very clear that any redundancies will be nowhere near what has been quoted.”

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