Up to five academy trusts are at loggerheads with unions over their plans to shake up teachers’ pay and conditions – which could see staff go unpaid during the summer holidays, Schools Week understands.
It has also been revealed that another trust recently backed down on similar plans, following discussions with the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Education Union.
Bradford Diocesan Academies Trust (BDAT) wanted to shake up notice periods for its staff, which unions said would remove a protection in teachers’ pay and conditions which requires notices to be issued on three dates during the year to make sure staff can secure new jobs.
But on April 5 the trust agreed to drop the plans, a BDAT spokesperson confirmed.
However Sara Ford, deputy director of policy at ASCL, said her union is now in talks with “four or five” more academy trusts seeking similar changes – prompting one senior school leader to blast them for “turning the screw” on staff.
She said the trusts are seeking a “variation on the same theme” of moving away from teachers’ pay and conditions rules to introduce a notice period of “two months or six weeks”. Names of the trusts could not be provided, she said.
The Burgundy Book, which sets out pay and conditions but which academies don’t have to follow, states all teachers must have a minimum of two months’ notice and three months in summer, “terminating at the end of a school term”.
What this seeks to do is cut unions out of the discussion
Despite not having to stick to the book, very few academies have moved away from its rules wholesale.
By dismissing teachers at any point during the school term, the trusts could leave staff without a salary for a period because most schools only hire for the start of term, Ford explained.
Staff would also lose accrued sickness pay and parental leave, under rules which reward continuous employment.
The trusts want to save money by not having to pay staff for a few weeks, said Ford – but she said it was a “short-sighted saving” as trusts would be seen as “unattractive employers” and struggle to recruit.
Now Dan Morrow, chief executive of Woodland Academy Trust in east London, has said the proposals are an attempt to “lop unions off at the knees”.
“Why would I move away from something that’s been negotiated for the profession? What this seeks to do is cut unions out of the discussion, because the book is an agreed reference point they can use on behalf of teachers.”
The changes would “turn the screw” on staff already under high pressure, instead of supporting and retaining them, he said. Firing teachers also passed the problem to “another set of children”, he said.
“My staff would feel very let down if I made this change. Honestly, if I was even close to doing this, I should be hanging up my boots.”
BDAT backed down last week over asking staff to sign new contracts with the three-month notice period, a move unions called “unprecedented”.
Ian Murch, who led negotiations on behalf of the NEU, said the trust had felt it took “too long to dismiss” underperforming staff and wanted to save money.
The trust has also dropped plans for staff involved in a capability or disciplinary process to have their sick pay restricted to three months, said Murch.
The union and trust are now negotiating on a few final issues including administering sick pay, he said.
A BDAT spokesperson said it sought the rule change to “provide consistency across teaching and support staff”.
However “following feedback from staff and unions, the trust decided not to proceed with this proposal” in an agreement finalised on April 5.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said academy trusts have not until now used the “full freedoms they have in relation to pay and conditions” and it was “right the sector tests” best practice.
She said any changes to notice-period rules would be a “question of balance, between having a high-quality education and doing what’s right for pupils, and not creating a period of worklessness for teachers which would be problematic”.