Academy chain drops plan to outsource non-teaching staff

The country’s largest academy chain has confirmed it will not continue with plans to outsource its non-teaching roles.

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) announced earlier this year it wanted to outsource non-teaching roles in a contract worth up to £400m, with PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC) named as the preferred bidder.

AET, a charitable trust operating 76 schools in England, came under fire from Ofsted in September when the inspectorate said too many of its pupils were not receiving a good enough education. The trust is currently “paused” by the EFA, meaning it is unable to take-over or open any schools.

In September Schools Week reported that plan needed approval from education secretary Nicky Morgan before it could continue – an apparent U-turn by the government who earlier in the year said outsourcing was a decision for AET’s board of trustees.

In a statement published on their website, AET said “We have recommended to our Board of Trustees we should not continue with the proposals for the joint venture arrangement with PwC, and instead we should develop an internal solution to deliver the efficiencies and improvements to our various support services.”

On Monday, head of the Education Funding Agency (EFA) Peter Lauener told MPs at the public accounts committee (PAC) the government had “put a stop to the proposal”.

He was asked by PAC chair Margaret Hodge: “Are you taking any action on the fact that they are contracting out to PwC not just the obvious accountancy things but things such as speech and language therapy, educational psychology, education welfare, curriculum development and professional development? Do you have a view on all that?”

Mr Lauener responded: “The proposal to contract out a lot of services to PwC was one that we regarded as interesting but novel and contentious, and therefore one that required our agreement.

“We were not willing to give that agreement because of our wider concerns, so we put a stop to the proposal.”

A joint statement from unions UNISON, NUT, NASUWT, GMB, ASCL, ATL, Unite and NAHT said: “The unions have been opposed to this proposal from the outset. The announcement now ends the uncertainty faced by staff. We see this move as real progress.

“The unions and AET have agreed to hold detailed discussions on an in –house alternative to the Joint Venture with PWC. These discussions will take place over the next twelve months. Our priority in these discussions will be to work constructively with AET to improve service quality and protect jobs and terms and conditions. The framework for involving members will come out of those discussions.”

Jon Richards, UNISON National Secretary for Education and  Children’s Services told Schools Week: “The AET team and board deserve credit for being prepared to listen to the concerns that UNISON and others such as  parents, staff, head teachers and governors had. UNISON will now work closely with AET and our staff side colleagues to achieve an in-house solution.

“I would like to thank UNISON members reps and staff across the union who have worked tirelessly on this issue and the work of MPs  such as Alex Cunningham and David Blunkett who have raised concerns and asked difficult questions of government throughout.”

Speaking after the announcement, Alex Cunningham MP told Schools Week he was “delighted” as this ended privatisation of the chain and hoped it would now mean AET would “concentrate on turning around” its academies, a number of which are inadequate or requiring improvement.

He added: “I was also pleased the Secretary of State made it clear when I questioned her at the Education Select Committee that she was totally opposed to academies being exploited for profit which would have happened if this deal had gone ahead.”

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