The safety of pupils and staff could be at risk if Ormiston Academies Trust – which runs primary and secondary schools across England – follows through with plans to cut caretaking and maintenance jobs, says UNISON today (Friday).

The trust, which operates 38 schools across the country, has announced plans to axe or relocate vital support staff roles across its network. Ormiston is also proposing to cut a number of information and communication technology (ICT) jobs, with affected staff due to learn their fate just before Christmas.  

More than 130 posts in schools across the East of England, East Midlands, North West, South East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside will be affected.

UNISON is concerned not enough thought has been given to the health, safety and welfare impact of cutting caretaking and maintenance roles.

The union is urging the trust to pause its plans until a full assessment and proper consultation can take place. Yet Ormiston has set aside barely a month to decide the future of staff, which is not enough says UNISON.

The threatened workers are responsible for conducting fire safety checks and ensuring fire alarms and escape routes are up to scratch. They also carry out regular building checks to make sure they’re safe and free of hazardous materials, such as asbestos. Staff are also on site to deal with maintenance emergencies, so they can limit the disruption to teaching and learning in the classroom.

But from next April, Ormiston Academies Trust plans to replace on site caretaking and maintenance teams with a slimmed-down force working across multiple sites.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:

“Employees crucial to the smooth running of schools are being pushed out of their jobs so a trust, which paid its chief executive £184,160 in 2018, can save on the salaries of caretakers, maintenance workers and ICT staff.

“Time and time again we’ve seen large organisations impose cost-cutting measures that sound good in the boardroom, but in the real world lead to poorer services, low morale, unemployment and, in this case, safety risks.

“Ormiston must halt its plans now and set aside a more realistic amount of time to consult with unions about a plan that affects the lives of hundreds of workers, and many more pupils and parents. That’s the very least it can do.”

A spokesperson for the Trust said:

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“Our Transforming Our Trust programme will enable us to do even more and make an even bigger positive difference to pupils, both inside and outside the classroom.

“As a financially responsible charity, which is absolutely committed to serving its pupils, we have opened a consultation on the current staffing and operational structures so that they are as efficient as possible while ensuring that the 29,000 children we support continue to receive the best possible educational opportunities.

“The process to date has of course included provision for the most robust health and safety standards going forward – nothing is more important than ensuring health and safety is of the highest standard, and that will remain the case. It is irresponsible and entirely wrong to even suggest we would compromise on this.

“No decisions on the future structure have been made because we are still in a consultation period with our staff and Trade Unions and we are very keen to hear the views of all interested parties – but we are very clear that any redundancies will be nowhere near what has been quoted.”

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