Schools convenor Keith Manville writes on a positive outcome for UNISON members:
UNISON recently raised concern about the West Sussex Alternative Provision College’s plans to convert to Academy status with the Beckmead Trust and on the consultation process involved in the TUPE transfer of staff from West Sussex County Council to the new employer. The Alternative Provision College is an important partner in West Sussex, operating across separate locations and provides a caring and positive environment for vulnerable and challenging pupils, supported by a staff body that are experienced and highly skilled in providing a personalised curriculum tailored to the needs of each pupil.
UNISON is aware the Alternative Provision College management team have concerns about support from the Local Authority and whilst we accept the Local Authority also has a different perspective, there were few reassurances provided to staff during the recent consultation that were convincing about their future within the Beckmead Trust and the benefits to the APC and the pupils the APC support. One aspect for staff was that the TUPE transfer involved changes introduced by the Trust in moving staff to Trust HR policies.
These policies had not been consulted and negotiated with the trade unions and despite several verbal and written requests the policy details were not shared at the start of consultation and only provided with less than a week of consultation remaining. The joint unions wanted to work positively with the Trust on the key issue of trade union recognition, but little progress had been made on that concern either before or during consultation, and the Trust remained unconvincing about their intent to establish a genuine working partnership with the joint unions.
The Branch was surprised to be advised by WSCC HR and APC management that the academisation of the APC has been terminated at this time. UNISON and the NEU jointly surveyed members at the APC and in a high response to a survey our members indicated concerns about the lack of clarity on policy changes and staunch support for an extension to consultation due to the inadequacy of meaningful consultation which was requested and agreed. Other responses to trade union questions indicated overwhelming support for indicative ballots for further action on the concern about trade union recognition.
UNISON members at the APC will still have concerns about the future but should appreciate the support provided to them by the Branch and our Reps. UNISON is concerned about the growing number of schools considering academisation as the only alternative, when alternatives such as Federation would also work for many schools and remaining within the local Authority with an improved package of support and services provided to schools, might also be a viable option for some schools.
Trade union opposition to the TUPE and academisation is likely not the only reason for the decision. UNISON has contacted management at the APC, and we remain positive about working with APC’s management despite our concern and opposition to this transfer. The decision to abandon the academy transfer is one the Branch supports and from our survey, an outcome many members at the APC indicated they wanted.