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‘Financial challenges’ at David Ross Education Trust prompt staff cuts



The David Ross Education Trust (DRET) has admitted facing “financial challenges” as it consults on plans to cut up to 40 support staff jobs across its schools.

DRET, one of England’s largest academy trusts, has launched a consultation in a bid to save £1 million across its 32 primary and secondary schools, but says it hopes to achieve most of its proposed job cuts through “natural movement of staff”.

It comes as the trust’s latest accounts show an apparent weakening in its financial position.

If they disappear, teaching staff will have to fill in the gaps

According to its 2016 accounts, the trust’s net assets dropped from £4.4 million in 2015 to £846,000 in 2016.

At the same time, the amount in the trust’s endowment fund has fallen from £2 million to £161,000 over the same period.

The fund is the means by which the trust is supported financially by its sponsor: the businessman and Tory donor David Ross and his charity the David Ross Foundation.

It also follows the resignations of several key personnel at the trust, including its chair, the former education secretary Lord Blunkett and DRET chief executive Wendy Marshall. Director of school improvement Leah Charlesworth and head of communications Ben Peck have also resigned.

Three unions which represent support staff, including teaching assistants and office staff, have admonished the trust for its plans to spend almost £800,000 on its central teams next year while cutting jobs and school budgets.

They also criticised increases in the amount schools are charged for back office services such as payroll and human resources from £2 million to £3.4 million, but DRET says this simply reflects the trust’s growth.

David Harrison, director of operations at DRET, said the consultation would look at “how we can best use finances to support classroom learning”.

“As the network has grown, and particularly given the financial challenges facing the education sector, it is right that we use the size and expertise of the trust to enable education staff to focus on student outcomes.”

Harrison claimed any money saved would be “reinvested directly into the classroom”, but accepted it “may mean a reduction in some support roles”.

The “vast majority” of these staff reductions will be met through “not renewing fixed-term contracts, natural movement of staff and voluntary redundancy”, Harrison claimed.

Jon Richards

Rachelle Wilkins, the GMB’s lead officer for the trust, said some academy trusts “fail to realise” the huge amount of work done by support staff, who she branded “the unsung heroes of our school system”.

“Strip these roles away, and teaching assistants will be coming out of the classrooms to fill in the gaps left by the loss of these valuable staff. Whichever way you look at this – it’s children who will suffer.”

Jon Richards, UNISON’s head of education, said the jobs under threat were “key to the smooth and safe running of these schools”.

“If they disappear, teaching staff will have to fill in the gaps,” he warned.

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21 Comments

  1. The Academies model is disgusting. It removes local accountability. It bullies pupils, teachers and parents. But mostly, it encourages greed and wide variance in pay between our beloved classroom teachers and Chief Exec Heads. It was obvious from the start how things would evolve allowing all schools to become academies, not just helping the struggling ones improve – if the pot is managed by Westminster and divided amongst too many Trusts then bankrupcy will ensue with no cushioning and fragmentation away from Local Authorities. Parents and teachers should have united earlier. I am aware that my comments may be viewed as negative by some parents wishing the best for their individual children, but we educate best if we educate all our children fairly.

    • Mark Watson

      A balanced comment.
      Let’s overlook how Lambeth Council pay Craig Tunstall more than £330,000 to be executive headteacher of eight local-authority maintained primaries in south London shall we. Because it’s only academies that are “disgusting” isn’t it?
      Bullying? How about Durham County Council which in 2015, after an 11 year battle, had to pay £1.5m to a teacher who was found to have suffered ‘continuous and relentless bullying’ by an employment tribunal after she blew the whistle on bullying at a village primary school. Nope, because it’s only those evil academies which bully people isn’t it?
      Without wishing to shine a ray of common sense into the picture, it comes down to people. There are good people in academies and in local government. And guess what, there are also bad people in academies and local government.

      • You’re right that there are serious problems in some LAs. I’m a regular reader of Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column to know that.
        But the academy system is flawed and lends itself to things going wrong. The systemis set up in such a way as to cause problem. The EFA can’t be expected to monitor thousands of academy trusts adequately and this lends itself to situations which go wrong. It doesn’t have to be outright fraud. It doesn’t have to be incompetence. It can just be a case of well-meaning trustees finding running a MAT, adhering to Company and Charity law, and balancing the books is more difficult than expected. In all such cases, the MATs can if they wish put themselves into administration. This means the academies must be rebrokered which can be a cost to the taxpayer especially if the rebrokered academies are crumbling, struggling or have deficits which may need writing off to attract a takeover.
        If, however, LA councillors are incompetent they can be voted out.

        • Mark Watson

          I’d wager if you went back over the last 10 years of Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column and tracked what happened to the public sector individuals named, it would be highly dispiriting to find out how many were still in position and hadn’t been elected out. The difference with MATs is that where someone is found out they can be removed there and then. No need to wait years for another election when (a) people might have forgotten, or (b) people don’t care that much about it.
          If local authorities or any other public sector body ends up losing money through incompetence, which happens depressingly regularly, then that is also a cost which the taxpayer has to shoulder. (You only have to consider the £10 billion wasted on the NHS IT system which was abandoned in 2010 – a noteworthy sum as this would be enough to bring every school site in England up to good condition and leave enough over to solve a few other education sector problems).
          Any time you involve people in a system it will be flawed.

          • Janet Downs

            Mark – You’re right that the centralised cock-ups by Government as well as local authority incompetence cost the taxpayer dear. But it doesn’t follow that our system of government (Parliamentary democracy, etc) is a flawed system set up in such a way as to facilitate financial blunders. Similarly, local democracy as a way of organising local decision making is preferable to centralised diktat.

            But the academy system is flawed: the EFA is expected to monitor hundreds of trusts, it’s easy for related party transactions to take place, MATs can walk away when things get tough (think Prospects, CfBT), MAT trustees can exert far more control over their schools than ever was the case with LAs, rebrokering academies costs money (which the Government hasn’t yet published) and there’s the potential for MATs to outsource the running of schools to for-profit education providers thereby siphoning off taxpayers’ money into shareholders pockets.

          • Mark Watson

            Pure unadulterated scaremongering.
            Firstly MATs cannot currently outsource running of schools to for-profit providers. Of course there’s the potential for them to be able to do so, in exactly the same way as there’s the potential for the Houses of Parliament to outsource the running of the country to the private sector. Just because something has ‘potential’ doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. And the public sector has always “siphoned off taxpayers’ money into shareholders pockets” – every time they build something, buy something or pay for a service. A lot of public sector bodies (NHS, LAs etc) now see themselves as commissioners of services rather than service providers.
            And unless you are wandering into realms of total fantasy, I really don’t think anyone set up the academies programme with the prime intention of facilitating financial blunders. I never said that our system of government was set up in such a way as to facilitate financial blunders, the whole point I was making that those blunders happen because of people. Exactly why blunders happen in MATs. Blame the person, not the system.
            Yes, the EFA is expected to monitor hundreds of trusts, in exactly the same way that the DfE and local authorities were previously expected to monitor 23,000+ schools.
            However you cut it, running schools to educate millions of children is going to be rather difficult. There are pros and cons of any approach, and in the main the cons will be as a result of people (negligence, incompetence or intentional fraud) in exactly the same way as the successes will be a result of people.

          • Janet Downs

            Mark – not ‘sheer unadulterated scaremongering. See Policy Exchange document ‘Blocking the Best’ published before the 2010 election which said running schools for profit could be facilitated by making state schools ‘independent’. They could then out-source their operation to a for-profit provider. Michael Gove welcomed the document and said he would allow Serco to run schools. Academies are classed as ‘independent’. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/gove-is-in-favour-of-profit-making-companies-running-state-schools/%23sthash.hzb5uyax.dpuf

          • Janet Downs

            Mark – You’re right that LAs, NHS etc can out-source. Again, Private Eye has plenty of examples of disastrous health care run by for-profit companies (eg Serco out-of-hours, Hinchingbrooke Hospital). And Lincolnshire County Council’s outsourcing of its HR and IT to Serco has caused chaos in the County with unpaid bills and wages. Time to change the system so that LAs, NHS etc run their operation in house rather than hiving them off to any willing provider.

          • Janet Downs

            Mark – Your’re right that LAs oversaw school accounts (still do in the case of their maintained schools). But this responsibility moved to the DfE when schools became academies. Before 2010, this wasn’t particularly burdensome because there were few academies. But on
            1 August 2011, the Secretary of State for Education became the Principal Regulator for foundation and voluntary schools, academies and sixth form colleges. All principal regulators have a duty to promote compliance by charity trustees with their legal obligations.

            As of January 2014, the Secretary of State for Education as Principal Regulator regulated over 11,000 institutions. Quite a leap from a few hundred. This number will have increased since then.

            Also in January 2014, the National Audit Office identified risks in the DfE’s ability to manage the finances of the academy sector. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/01/national-audit-office-identifies-risks-in-dfes-ability-to-manage-finances-of-academy-sector

            And for the past two/three years the NAO has issued an ‘adverse opinion’ on the DfE’s accounts. The main problem being consolidation of academy accounts with the DfE’s.

          • Mark Watson

            Policy Exchange is a right-wing think tank. So it published a document pre-2010 referring to running schools for profit. So what? In the seven years since then has it happened? I’m sure with a little bit of research I could find a whole variety of barmy ideas published by various right-wing / left-wing think tanks. The problem with conspiracy theories is that because they’re so fixated on what they perceive to be the intentions behind their bogeymen they neglect to look at the facts on the ground.
            And please, please leave Michael Gove behind. He’s gone. Departed. An ex-Education Secretary. Whatever his faults were he no longer makes the decisions.

        • Mark Watson

          By the way, the first post above referred to how the ‘disgusting’ academy model removed local accountability. Your post carries on with this theme – “if LA councillors are incompetent they can be voted out”.
          I had another look online at the case of Karen Hall – the teacher that received compensation and costs totalling more than £1.5m following a series of scathing employment tribunal and appeal rulings involving her former employer Durham County Council, while the local authority also paid £200,000 in interest accrued on the awards.
          Having been picked up on such monstrous problems (and yes, the Durham taxpayers had to cough up the £1.7 million) the Council announced there would be an enquiry. But hey presto, in June 2016 the Council announced that it would not make the report public. So much for local accountability. And yes, the Director of Education at the time of all the problems, Caroline O’Neill, is still in place.

        • Janet Downs

          Again, you are misinterpreting what I said about how the academy programme. I did not say the PRIME intention of developing the academies system was to facilitate financial blunders. But the way it was set up paved the way for financial blunders, accidental or otherwise. It was an unfortunately by-product of not foreseeing where the academy system might lead.

          • Mark Watson

            Nice side-stepping of the central point being made. My point is that both systems (LA and MAT) are flawed because they are run by people. There are problems and issues with both. If you’re going to take up cudgels every time something goes wrong with the academies programme, but show no interest in shining the light on the problems in LA run schools, then it seems that you’re not interested in improving the education sector but merely bashing the academies programme because you have a politically motivated problem with it.

      • Janet Downs

        Mark – Is it really a ‘conspiracy theory’ to say that the SoS whose policies will remain in place for years once said he would let Serco run schools? That is a fact. The speech is on YouTube. The Serco comment is about 24 mins in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoonbbuUqKU
        The Policy Exchange document was co-authored by the New Schools Network, the taxpayer-funded charity promoting free schools. Former NSN head, Nick Timothy, is now Joint Downing Street Chief of Staff. In May 2016 he attended a dinner at the Centre for Market Reform of Education. One discussed item was ‘opening the [school] market up properly – to more sustainable for-profit propositions’

        • Mark Watson

          No, that Gove said that is of course a fact. What is a conspiracy theory is taking that fact and then, without any evidence or evident connection, using it to imply that current and/or future government policy is be to put this one quote into action.
          Another example of a conspiracy theory is your comment above about Nick Timothy. I’m not saying anything about him or his views (I know you have rather strong feelings on the man). Your comment seems to draw great inference from the fact he ATTENDED a dinner at which opening the school market up was discussed. I had a quick look at the report of this dinner and what he said “http://www.cmre.org.uk/node/158” – actually he didn’t say anything about for-profit organisations. That was a discussion which took place after his speech. So on what basis do you think you know about the position he takes on for-profit participation in schools?
          A hop, skip and jump of assumptions later and because he (a) attended a dinner at which something was discussed, and (b) he’s now a joint chief of staff, that’s apparently important. Why?

  2. Janet – I think you’re deliberately missing the point Mark made in his first post. Human-led systems produce failures. That’s it. Academies (as an entire, non-differentiated sub-set of schools nationally) being labelled “Disgusting” is like labelling every Catholic Church “a home for institutionalised paedophilia”.

    Opal’s comment – which is indicative of a mindset which has prevailed around any change in education not brought on by the braying masses of the NUT / Anti-Academy / No Free Schools / No innovation crowd – is just lazy trolling. “Parents and teachers should have united earlier” – to do what?? Oppose an attempt to overhaul an education system and the structures therein?

    Good grief. I know Schoolsweek is largely the domain of failed Guardian journalists and their twitter groupies, but honestly, you’re making the same blinkered response whenever someone has the temerity to try raise the bar about the ovine bleating of frustrated opponents of change.

  3. Janet Downs

    Mark – Arguing that it’s irrelevant to discuss Gove because he’s no longer SoS is as misguided as saying we can’t discuss Martin Mcguiness and his influence on Northern Ireland because he’s gone.

    • Mark Watson

      Of course it’s not irrelevant to discuss Gove, as you say he instigated the academies programme. But just because he said something in a speech over 10 years ago about for-profit organisations getting into the education sector doesn’t mean it has any bearing on what’s happening today or in the future.
      Actually your analogy with Martin McGuinness is spot on and I thank you for such a good example. When it comes to the future of Northern Ireland of course he should be discussed, however he is quoted as having previously said “Freedom can be gained only at the point of an IRA rifle, and I apologize to no one for saying that we support the freedom fighters of the IRA.”
      Should we therefore assume that any and all actions of Sinn Fein should for ever more be viewed through this prism ? That is the approach you seem to be taking with regards to Michael Gove and the Conservative Party …

  4. Both systems have similar flaws and neither guarantee success. Which is why it’s inexplicable that we’ve spent billions pursuing the academy model. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the LA system in the first place. Schools aren’t good or bad for reasons of status. That’s why Gove and Morgans pursuit of academisation looks so much like ideological clap trap which wastes valuable resources and focuses entirely on the wrong things. And we’ve ended up with an unholy fragmented mess for no good reason or benefit.

    • Mark Watson

      This is a valid point. I think if you were having a theoretical review of history in 20 years’ time, I can see there being a valid discussion about whether the academisation programme provided benefits, and even if it did whether those same benefits (or more) could have been obtained by spending the incurred costs on improving the local authority model.
      I think it’s too early to make an absolute judgment on it now. However my standpoint is that like it or not, whether you think it was ideological clap trap or not, we are where we are. We are in a position where over 6,000 schools (69% of secondaries) are academies and a large number of LEAs have been decimated as a result.
      So given where we are, and for the sake of this discussion ignoring what has already been spent (it has gone and isn’t coming back), what is the best route forward?
      Is it to run two systems (academies and LEAs) side be side?
      Is it to pursue a policy of full academisation one way or another?
      Is it to unpick the academies programme and return all schools to LEA control?
      To my mind there are risks and expenses in all three options.

  5. Joanne Hammond

    Bring back comprehensives. At least we left school able to read and write, which is a lot more than can be said now. I learnt typing/shorthand which has given me a 40 year career, now retired with my own home.