The National Education Union (NEU) blog said academies set their own staff pay and conditions. This is correct. Hinds said academy trusts, like all employers, must follow employment law. That’s a strawman. The NEU was not suggesting trusts could act illegally.
Hinds said existing staff rights were protected when schools converted under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2016 (TUPE). This is true. But staff recruited after conversion don’t have to be employed under the same protected rights. This could concern existing staff if newer colleagues have worse conditions and pay.
Since January 2014*, academy trusts, like all new employers, can after one year seek to renegotiate terms and conditions derived from a collective agreement, for example, the ‘Burgundy Book’. Hinds admitted trusts would need staff ‘agreement’ for such changes. But there are ways in which staff could be persuaded such as warning about redundancies if changes were prevented.
TUPE isn’t set in stone. An attempt in May 2011 to ‘disapply’ TUPE protection when ‘failing’ schools converted didn’t succeed but nothing could stop such a disapplication being suggested again. Schools minister Nick Gibb told MPs TUPE regulations ‘were implemented in response to the European acquired rights directive.’ But Brexit could threaten the retention of these acquired rights.
‘…cuts in academies have been deeper than in maintained schools’, the NEU claimed, because academies had to pay for redundancies out of their budgets. This had led to eight in ten academies being in deficit.
This figure came from Bishop Fleming Academes Benchmark Report 2018: at the end of 2016/17, 80% of academies had ‘recorded deficits’ when depreciation was taken into account. This dropped to 55% when depreciation was discounted.
Government data does not support this analysis. Department for Education figures showed 185 single or multi-academy trusts were in deficit in 2016/17. Multi-academy trusts have more than one academy, of course, but even if these were counted separately it’s unlikely it would result in eight in ten of academies being in the red.
Hinds may have sought to reassure the Catholic Education Service, but any diocese thinking of running academies or encouraging their schools to join together in one MAT should think again. Many remaining LA-maintained faith schools are small, and having predominantly small academies can hamper improvement as the Diocese of Leicester found. And MATs have to take on all the administrative and legal duties currently undertaken by LAs – an extra burden on diocese considering running a MAT.
Schools considering conversion should remember that this entails losing individual legal identity. Academies become offshoots of their MAT and are only given as much ‘freedom’ as the trust allows. This can mean disbanding local governing bodies, imposing MAT-wide curricula, policies and ways of teaching.
Teachers may conclude that their schools are better off under the stewardship of LAs rather than under the control of MATs.