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Academy Trust under fire for pressing ahead with job restructures during Coronavirus crisis

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AN Academy Trust which runs six schools in Warrington and Halton, has come under fire for pressing ahead with a controversial staffing restructure during the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, with some staff fearing for their jobs.

The Warrington Primary Academy Trust (WPAT) has been described as “callous” by Union officials but Chief Executive Louise Smith say most of the staff affected have accepted new roles within the new staffing structure at their schools, accepted voluntary redundancy or have secured new jobs outside the trust.

But Union officials say the  controversial restructure process, which affects staff working at Beaumont and Alderman Bolton primary schools (Warrington) and Ditton primary school (Halton) could lead to school staff facing cuts to their pay and conditions, or even lose their jobs.

They say many school staff are currently supporting the effort to stop the spread of the virus by attending work in order to ensure that key workers’ children are cared for. The consultation, which ran throughout March, has placed undue stress on staff during the current health crisis, says UNISON. As well as the anxiety created by potential job losses and cuts to working conditions, the union says that is unfair to expect staff to express their interest in a post and go through competitive interviews against their colleagues in the current climate.

Local UNISON branches have raised their concerns with WPAT CEO Louise Smith, who they say has refused to pause any of the restructure processes ongoing at the three schools. Subsequently, the issue has been raised with WPAT by Warrington Borough Council Chief Executive Steven Broomhead and the council’s Director of Education and Early Help Paula Worthington.

Meanwhile, three other education unions issued joint advice last week stating that it was “not possible to proceed on matters such as reorganisation/redundancy … which require meaningful consultation in order to meet the law’s requirements”. This advice had been sent by Warrington Borough Council to all schools in Warrington, but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

UNISON Schools Committee Chair Pam Howard said: “It’s completely abhorrent that Trust bosses have chosen to steamroll their restructure through in the midst of a global pandemic that is fundamentally affecting us all.

“School support staff are going over and above to ensure that children of key workers are looked after in the midst of this crisis- many of our members have volunteered to work over the Easter holidays to support the national effort, and yet they have been rewarded by the threat of losing their jobs.

“It is eminently possible that the current emergency could endure for many months to come. If and when schools are able to fully re-open, school support staff will be essential in the effort to reverse the educational deficit. UNISON calls on WPAT CEO Louise Smith to reconsider the Trust’s callous decision and pause all staff restructures for the foreseeable future. We will be happy to work with the Trust on any current or future reviews once this crisis has been navigated.”

But Louise Smith, CEO of Warrington Primary Academy Trust, responded: “The restructure has been tough for everyone involved and we have consulted affected staff at every step along the way.

“All of the affected staff in three of our schools – Beamont Primary and Alderman Bolton Primary in Warrington and Ditton Primary in Widnes – were fully consulted about the restructure plans and this lengthy process was completed this month.

“We asked the staff affected by this restructure if they wanted the process to be delayed in its final stages because of the coronavirus crisis. The vast majority asked for it to be completed on schedule because they wanted an end to the uncertainty and anxiety created by such a process.

“Most of the staff affected have accepted new roles within the new staffing structure at their schools, accepted voluntary redundancy or have secured new jobs outside the trust.

“Like many schools across the country we are facing big pressures on our budgets and we have had to restructure our staffing to make sure that we can operate within our means and meet the needs of our pupils in the future.”

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Experienced journalist for more than 35 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with six in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.

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