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Academy staff could strike over ‘excessive’ GAG pooling

Staff at an East Sussex academy are preparing to ballot for strike action over a trust’s “absolutely excessive” pooling of academy cash.

National Education Union members at the Hastings Academy are expected to vote on proposed walkouts, after they were reportedly informed that they will be losing agency support staff next month.  

Jenny Sutton, the NEU’s district secretary, blames the charging arrangements set by the University of Brighton Academies Trust (UoBAT), which runs the school, for impacting finances.

Schools Week revealed last month that one of the MAT’s academies is effectively having around 20 per cent of its cash retained to pay for central services, such as attendance support and estates teams.

Hilary Goldsmith

The trust uses a process whereby it pools its academies’ general annual grant (GAG), before deciding how much cash should be allocated to schools based on their own formula.

School business leader Hilary Goldsmith believes the case should act as a warning to the sector.

“There should be real, genuine transparency [between staff and MATs] about what GAG pooling is for, why and how it leads to school improvement. It’s about ensuring staff fully understand the value and agree with the numbers,” she said.

Average top slice for large trusts is 5.4%

Most trusts top-slice their schools’ budgets to fund central services. Large trusts, on average, top-slice 5.4 per cent. Some now take 10 per cent – but say this is because they provide more services centrally, and it actually means their schools save money.

But a growing number are choosing to GAG pool, which has much less transparency but allows them to distribute funding more evenly across their schools.

UoBAT’s accounts show that, overall, just over 13 per cent of the chain’s pooled school income is retained.

Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, lodged a freedom of information request with the trust for two schools in her patch.

The FOI response showed Hastings Academy received £5.64 million of the £6.75 million it was allocated by the government this year, suggesting 16 per cent was not passed on.

A quarter of funding may have been kept

The St Leonard’s Academy, also in East Sussex, received £8.17 million of the just over £11 million allocated by the government. This suggests 26 per cent was not passed to the school.

Hart, who posted the figures in a video on her Facebook page, has launched a petition urging the trust to “hand over control” of both schools to an alternative chain.

Sutton described the pooling as “absolutely excessive”.

However, a spokesperson for the trust accused Hart of “disseminating misinformation and misinterpreting information disclosed” through the FOI. The trust said the percentages presented in the video were “incorrect”.

But a staff member who did not want to be named said they wanted the trust to “tell us precisely how money is spent, [and] if money needs to be diverted, tell us why”.

An “indicative ballot” has already been held at Hastings Academy. A date for a “formal” vote is yet to be set, Sutton added.

The trust said it “remains committed to working constructively with our trade unions”.

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