Alternative provision academy trust turns to online learning to make savings

An academy trust in charge of 11 alternative provision academies intends to increase its use of online learning as part of a plan to cut more than £2.5 million from its budget, it has emerged.

The TBAP trust, which runs AP academies in London, Essex, Cambridgeshire and the North West, is planning widespread cost-cutting measures after receiving a financial notice to improve from the government last month.

The trust was first warned about its finances in January after it requested funding advances of £300,000 from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and subsequently had to borrow another £650,000 to deal with further deficits.

Now it is looking for ways to reduce its outgoings and has consulted unions on its proposals, including the increased use of online learning.

Seamus Oates, chief executive officer trust and Paul Dix, chair of board, said TBAP has no intention to compromise on “high standards of learning and safety for all our learners and staff”.

“We are in consultation with our staff and the unions and have asked them explicitly for feedback on our proposals and alternative ways of making the required savings.

“Online learning has been used previously at TBAP. It is one aspect of our vocational offer to learners and can be used as a means of enhancing the curriculum.”

Schools Week revealed last week that the Department for Education (DfE) allowed TBAP to take on two schools and approved bids for it to open two new free schools, despite the trust being £1 million in deficit.

According to Unison, GMB, NASUWT and the National Education Union, which represent teachers and support staff at the trust, TBAP plans to cut more than £2.5 million (14.4 per cent) from its budget, leading to causing concerns that teaching and support staff jobs may be at risk.

Union representatives will meet with TBAP on Tuesday, and will call on the trust to put the cuts on hold to allow for a proper consultation with staff, parents and local politicians.

“The ESFA needs to do a full investigation into how the TBAP trust got into such a mess, and provide stability for pupils and staff,” said Unison head of education Jon Richards.

“This looks like yet another fiasco over how academies are run, and it raises more questions about what the ESFA does when it knows there is a problem.

“The ESFA must ensure that pupils are protected and staff don’t see their jobs cut because of financial mistakes made by the trust.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said the situation is “completely unacceptable” and will “directly harm” the education of vulnerable children, while NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney called on the DfE to “act quickly to put effective controls on multi-academy trusts”.