Strike ballots in 7 schools after academy chain SPTA ditches creative subjects and cuts jobs

A curriculum restructure at seven secondary schools in Yorkshire and the Humber will lead to more than 88 jobs cuts as creative subjects are ditched in favour of a more academic focus, the National Union of Teachers has warned.

The union will ballot staff at seven schools – De Warenne Academy, Ash Hill Academy and Don Valley Academy in Doncaster; Melior Community Academy in Scunthorpe; the South Leeds Academy, John Whitgift Academy in Grimsby; and Manor Croft Academy in Dewsbury – over potential strike action following an announcement by the School Partnership Trust Academies.

Schools Week understands the trust is seeking to make voluntary redundancies in 85 posts – 48 teaching posts and 37 support staff – and a further three compulsory redundancies as it is reducing the number of GCSEs some pupils study.

It is believed that pupils wanting to study subjects such as music will have to opt in to after-school classes under the new system, which has come about after the trust expressed fears children were studying too many subjects and schools were “overstaffed”.

The shake-up, first revealed by the Yorkshire Post this morning, will require schools to prioritise academic subjects so the schools can perform better against the government’s new “progress 8” performance measure.

The measure rates schools based on pupils’ performance in the five EBacc subjects – English, maths, science, history or geography and languages – plus their three highest non-EBacc grades.

Subjects like music can be included in progress 8, but are less likely to be prioritised by schools which focus more on routes for pupils with subjects that can count across any of the 8 slots, such as triple science or an extra humanities subject.

Emma Forrest, an NUT organiser involved in negotiations with the schools, said the trust’s response to disappointing results had been to “focus completely on progress 8 to the detriment of other subjects”.

“It’s hard to pin SPTA down in terms of the reasons for the re-structure,” she said. “They have always told us that this is about finances, and now suddenly it’s not about finances. They have not mentioned over-staffing to us once.”

It is not the first big hurdle faced by the trust in recent years. Last December, it was revealed that SPTA would be stripped of 3 of its schools in Nottinghamshire following fears they were isolated from the rest of the organisation, and similar fears were expressed about Don Valley, Ash Hill and de Warenne, which are all rated inadequate by Ofsted.

In March, the trust was namechecked by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw when he launched a scathing attack on the academy trust model, warning that some had “manifested the same weaknesses” as the worst-performing local authorities and “offered the same excuses”.

A spokesperson, who confirmed the trust had only been notified of a ballot at four of the seven schools, said the trust had an in-year deficit of £3.2 million last year and was projecting a further in-year deficit of £6.8 million this year.

The trust said it had identified three potential compulsory redundancies following work to “ensure that staffing structures reflect the academy and student needs”.

“We believe that students need a good grade in both English and Maths to be successful in accessing the next level of education, training or employment,” he said. “These will be the priorities for our schools moving forward, alongside a broad and balanced curriculum.

“We recognise that the trade unions are trying to protect their members’ jobs in a very difficult time and we will continue to work with them supportively. However, the trust must take positive action to support and improve student outcomes and deliver value for money to parents and the wider community.”

The structural changes are similar to those employed by Outwood Grange Academies Trust, which is working in partnership with SPTA. The trust was keen to play down rumours of a take-over after it was revealed Outwood’s second-in-charge had taken over the helm at SPTA.


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  1. This is an example of the negative impact league tables have on teaching. If some subjects are judged to have less value in accountability measures then it’s likely these subjects will be downgraded, even axed, so schools can concentrate on subjects with more league table value. This distorts the curriculum.
    At the same time the case highlights the lack of autonomy of academies in chains. The chain, not individual academies, has made the decision to ‘restructure’. It’s unclear whether individual academy heads agree with the decision or will comply because their jobs might be at risk if they didn’t.

  2. If you are the parent of a child who can no longer study a creative subject because of this decision, who do you complain to? The headteacher of the school has no influence. The LA has no influence. It’s a serious question.

    Perhaps Schools Week could find out, and publish, how a parent might have any say when a MAT is running things.

    Are schools no longer there for parents and students? Is it more important for the CEO to get a knighthood and a big pay cheque than for individual student talents to be nurtured?

  3. Valerie Pinto

    It’s very short-sighted to reduce culture by marginalising things like music. Music is beneficial in ways that cannot be counted and improves children’s performance overall.
    Shedding teachers is a huge mistake: instead class sizes could be reduced or more options offered.

  4. Phil Gundy

    Certain politicians want a trained population, not an educated one. To do this take control of education away from education professionals, parents and others concerned with educating individuals. Give control to people who understand business models and see success in terms of output and value for money, and who find it easy to make ‘tough decisions’ about other people’s futures- and hey presto! You have academies

  5. Kirsty

    It is time this country stood up to this kind of repulsive behaviour. We are allowing the government to systematically break down the education system from within and doing nothing to stop them. We have become a nation of moaners who do not act to save the future of our children’s education, We need to take a leaf from the young doctors and act to save the arts. So many pupils will slip through the net. Some many children will have their lives crippled by so called ‘academic’ education. And the knock on effect will be a huge chunk of industry lost. What are we going to export when our artists and designers are no longer world leading, our special effects teams no longer have the knowledge to create Oscar and Bafta winning films? It looks to me like we are running out of options.

  6. The notion of a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum has long been a positive hallmark of the English education system. Over the last 5 years this notion has been destroyed by this Tory government. It is very sad to read about the consequences of this as headteachers over-react to policy changes and ditch core values and principles in favour of mechanistic accountancy procedures.

    But the real cost is being paid by our children. Who wants their child to specialise in engineering at 14, or be forced to choose between art and music as a GCSE? I don’t. We have lost something very precious here and we should hold our policymakers to account for the devastation they are causing in ours schools.