Schools are halting redundancy plans as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause unprecedented disruption across the nation.
Harris Federation – one of the country’s largest trusts – is among those calling off crunch talks with employees.
The reality is that there would only have been a tiny number of redundancies, if any, across our 48 schools, so it was an easy decision to postpone
A spokesperson for the trust said its restructuring consultations had only placed a possible seven of its 6,000 staff at risk.
National Education Union campaign manager Henry Fowler had broken the news about plans being postponed, which he said was “due to representations” by the union.
However, a spokesperson for the trust has denied the NEU had any say in the decision and criticised it for “spreading rumours and unsettling our staff”.
Harris added: “Our decision to postpone restructuring consultations is a common-sense response to the current situation with coronavirus, and has absolutely nothing to do with representations made by the NEU.
“The reality is that there would only have been a tiny number of redundancies, if any, across our 48 schools, so it was an easy decision to postpone.”
The trust said it will lodge a complaint “formally with the NEU”.
An NEU spokesperson said Harris’s restructuring consultation involved staff across six schools. But Harris said the potentially affected staff were employed across just two schools.
Pauline Buchanan, the NEU’s London regional secretary, said postponement was the right decision, adding: “At a time when the country is experiencing a health crisis of existential proportions, it is evident to anyone that this is not business as usual.”
Earlier this month Schools Week reported that Harris Federation’s chief executive Sir Dan Moynihan once again topped the tables of the highest paid academy bosses. His total pay rose from at least £440,000 in 2017-18 to at least £450,000 last year.
Elsewhere, The Bay CE School in the Isle of Wight, part of the Cornerstone Federation, has postponed staffing restructure talks which were expected to lead to redundancies for SEN support staff at the school.
In a statement sent to Schools Week on behalf of executive headteacher Duncan Mills, a spokesperson confirmed “due to the current Covid-19 circumstances and with regard to staff well-being at this difficult time, the governing board has decided to suspend the consultation regarding the restructure at The Bay CE School until the autumn term.”
It is understood the potential restructuring could impact four teachers, five learning support assistants and a number of technicians and site staff.
Mark Chiverton, Unison branch secretary for the Isle of Wight, called the decision “very welcome” and said the union is looking forward “to engaging in meaningful dialogue over the next few months with a view to exploring alternative solutions”.
He added: “In these circumstances, Unison and other trade unions are calling for a revision of the previously outlined timescales and a pause to enable governors, school managers, staff and their representatives to consider alternatives in the light of the rapidly developing emergency circumstances.”
Earlier this week Chris Keates, acting general secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, hit out at members of the sector after the union’s local representatives reported some schools are continuing with redundancy meetings.
Keates said: “It beggars belief that at a time of a national crisis, when the future for everyone is so uncertain, that some schools are refusing to withdraw their plans to make teachers redundant and are insisting on ploughing ahead with redundancy meetings and hearings.
“What kind of employers, in the face of such an unprecedented situation, consider it acceptable or appropriate to add to this stressful situation by seeking to remove them from their jobs?”
When asked by Schools Week, the union could not provide any examples of schools that were continuing redundancy talks.
Keates called on the government to “insist” employers “do the right thing and stand by their workforce”.