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Trust staff go on strike as GAG pooling row escalates

Staff across five schools have taken part in the first two days of walkouts in what’s been dubbed the set of first strikes over MAT central charges.

The industrial action is the latest twist in a row that erupted over the University of Brighton Academies Trust’s “absolutely excessive” pooling of cash.

One of its schools is effectively having around 20 per cent of its cash retained by the chain to pay for its central services, Schools Week previously revealed. 

The National Education Union said the trust has conceded its need to radically change its funding model in talks.

However, it decided to go ahead with strikes yesterday and today because UoBAT “has failed to assure staff that the cut needed for this will only fall on the central trust – not school budgets”.

‘Make central team pay – not schools’

Phil Clarke, the NEU’s east Sussex branch secretary, stated members could not “accept further job cuts and workload increases as a price for putting this right”.

“To resolve this dispute the trust not only need to change their funding model, which they have agreed to, they need to guarantee that school budgets will not pay for the change.

“It is the central trust that needs to pay and the CEO who needs to start trying to win back the trust of the staff.”

Strikes originally scheduled to take place last Wednesday were suspended following “positive” talks between the trust and the NEU.

But following today’s action, the union expects the walkouts to continue over three days next week. Further strike ballots at two other schools are also said to be underway. 

The NEU added that the dispute arose out of “excessive workload and job cuts resulting from the underfunding”. It believes the case is the first trust-wide dispute of its kind to have taken place.

A UoBAT spokesperson stressed the trust “has listened to the concerns raised and has shown a commitment to implementing changes”.

“Regrettably, these measures have not been sufficient to prevent the NEU proceeding with industrial action at five of our 14 academies across east and west Sussex,” they continued.

“The trust remains committed to ongoing negotiations with the NEU to prevent future industrial action and to resolve the dispute.”

Trusts have two methods to fund central services. Most top slice a percentage from their schools’ budgets.

But a growing number – including UoBAT – instead pool all their schools’ general annual grant (GAG) funding first, before deciding how much cash should be allocated to academies based on their own formula.

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