Church leaders are calling for a solution to be sought in a row over contracts dismissed as going against the grain of a school trust’s Christian ethos.
The Bradford Diocesan Academies Trust (BDAT), which runs 20 schools across Bradford, is in talks over changes for its staff around sick pay, probationary periods and unpaid leave.
The trust must act to prevent redundancies, it argues, with the proposed changes saving a potential £500,000 a year, the equivalent of around 20 jobs.
But the changes, under consultation since last September, have been branded a “disgrace” by staff, arguing it would impact upon workers when they are at their most vulnerable. Now, the Bishop of Kirkstall, the Rt Revd Paul Slater, has confirmed the Anglican Diocese of Leeds has received a number of submissions.
“From the inception of the trust it was always envisaged that there would need to be some rationalisation of contracts in due course,” he said.
“The Diocese recognises the nature of the issues and urges all parties to continue seeking for a positive way forward.”
Around 200 staff at BDAT met with union leaders from five different bodies last week, raising concerns over the new contracts they have been asked to sign.
“It is disgraceful that the trust wants to hit staff when they are most vulnerable,” one staff member said. “It is really hard to understand how a Christian employer could behave like this.”
The changes would reduce their rights, they argue, reducing sick pay, raising notice periods in some circumstances, increasing deductions for unpaid leave, and changing probationary periods.
This was a break from a principle of sticking to national terms and conditions, unions including the National Association of Headteachers, National Education Union and Unison said, urging members not to agree to the changes. But the BDAT, in a frank statement issued in the wake of concerns, said it must act to protect its staff in the longer term.
“This has been brought about by the need to address the reducing contribution in real terms to the money contributed by the Government,” a spokesman for the trust said.
“In order to retain control of future unfunded pay-rises set out by the Government, and to minimise potential future redundancies, the trust has proposed some changes to staff terms which will ultimately protect jobs and ensure as much money as possible is retained by the schools to provide good quality education for our students in the classroom.
“We believe that such an approach is truly in accordance with our Christian ethos.”
The proposed changes complained of the NEU, it added, would affect less than one per cent of staff but could safeguard around 20 jobs. As a charitable trust, it added, it has been consulting over the proposed changes since September and no whole-scale move away from national terms was being considered.
“The modest changes BDAT have suggested will help to avoid future redundancies and ensure staff are treated consistently,” the spokesman stressed. “They will help to protect jobs and ensure we continue to provide an excellent education for pupils.
“Our aim is not to treat our staff in a less positive manner than in other schools but to pro-actively look to safeguard staff jobs for the future during this period of financial austerity.”