The UK’s largest academy chain faces a potential dispute with seven education unions over job cuts, low wages and outsourcing.

GMB, UNISON, Unite, ASCL, NAHT, NASUWT and the NEU have all registered a “failure to agree” with London-based Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) which means that it now has to halt all cuts and outsourcing to allow for final talks at conciliation service Acas.

The unions cite AET’s unwillingness to provide essential financial information on its plans for its schools, outsourcing of school services, holding down of teacher pay progression, failure to tackle workload and cuts to frontline school support staff.

According to the GMB, the Trust also refusing to release details of the recent financial support it received from the Government, including the full conditions it signed up to in return for this money.

It reportedly lost two academies last year as part of a turnaround plan agreed with the Department for Education (DfE).

Although AET is based in the capital, schools are affected across the country, including in Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Gloucester and Milton Keynes.

Sharon Wilde, GMB National Officer for Schools, said: “The Trust is pursuing a policy of rampant outsourcing while creating a working environment so stressful it is literally making our members ill. AET needs to stop hiding its financial documents and come clean so we can have a proper discussion about the future of the Trust.”

AET Chief Executive Julian Drinkall was paid a £26,000 bonus last year on top of his £264,000 salary and is one of the highest paid executives in the sector.

In February this year, Labour MP Lucy Powell asked the Secretary of State for Education, if he would publish details of the financial turnaround plan agreed between his Department, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Trust.

In particular, she wanted to know how much money provided by the ESFA had been earmarked to fund staff redundancy costs, the financial savings AET is forecast to make while the plan is implemented and whether the plan includes arrangements for outsourcing any AET staff.

In reply Education Minister Nick Gibb said that £1.2 million of the £4.5 million provided to the Trust was non-recoverable deficit funding. He also confirmed that £646,443 of the £3.06 million earmarked for restructuring costs, which will include redundancy payments, was also non-recoverable deficit funding.

Last reviewed 11 April 2019