The academy trust which is set to take over Moulsecoomb Primary School has denied mismanaging another school it took over, instead saying its “values did not align”.
Members of both the NEU and GMB have now voted unanimously to strike on November 21 over the academisation plans, with a third union, Unison, yet to declare its ballot results.
New Horizons Academy Trust was last month named as sponsor for the primary school, which the government has ordered to become academy following an Ofsted rating of inadequate.
But the National Education Union quickly raised concerns over how it took over another school in Worthing in September 2016, where half the staff including the head quit within a year.
By August last year, New Horizons had handed over running of the school to another trust, Durrington Multi Academy Trust (DMAT). The school, which was rated as good while under local authority control, is now rated as requiring improvement.
But New Horizons’ chair of trustees Simon Wood said the trust, which now runs just one school in Lancing which it took over in 2016, has a “strong record in school improvement”.
Mr Wood said: “Our trust previously included New Horizons Laurels Primary. Soon after becoming part of the trust, it became clear that our values did not align.
“Those responsible for leading The Laurels did not place the same level of importance on all aspects needed to run a successful and sustainable school.
“Our trust has never mismanaged any funds – quite the opposite. When The Laurels was rebrokered to Durrington Multi Academy Trust it was with a newly balanced and sustainable budget and a substantial carry-forward in funds.”
He added: “We feel that our trust values closely align with those of Moulsecoomb Primary School.
“We are undertaking due diligence, which will involve looking at all aspects of running a successful and sustainable school, and we are also arranging meetings with parents and staff to take any questions they may have.
“We hope everyone agrees that the top priority for us all is to support the school to rapidly improve and we have always been of the view that this is best achieved through a team effort and the work of everyone involved with the school.
“Every school, like every child, is different, but we hope that, with everyone’s support, we can replicate the same success and positive outcomes at Moulescoomb that we have nurtured at New Horizons Seaside.
“We have the capacity and expertise to do so and know that we can make a very positive difference for your children, which is our only motivation.”
Meanwhile, the NEU and GMB unions are now discussing a strike timetable, with 21 November being mooted by the NEU.
NEU rep and teacher, Calvin Cumiskey, commented: “Every single member of staff at Moulsecoomb is united in opposition to our school being forced to become an academy.
“Teachers have voted resoundingly to take action to defend our school and we expect the support staff union’s ballots to show the same as ours once complete.
“We know that strike action will create difficulties for some parents, and this has always been the last resort for us. Now that an academy trust has been selected to take over the school, we feel we have no choice but to use strike action.”
Mark Turner, GMB Branch Secretary said: “While assurances are often given about the future of staff’s terms and conditions of employment after academisation, just for starters, academies do not follow national pay scales for teachers or support staff and have the option to opt out of the national curriculum so any assurances aren’t worth the paper they are written on.
“Staff who move to academies can lose their built-up entitlement to maternity pay.
“Staff who later return to local authority employment will have lost many rights and new staff joining an academy will not get the same terms and conditions as those who transferred when the school converted.
“There are no legal barriers to stop terms and conditions changing following academy conversion.
“We all recognise that strike action is always the last resort but we will not stand by and allow the school to be taken from the local community and local education authority putting the future of children’s education and staff’s terms and conditions at risk.”
New Horizons’ sole school, Seaside in South Lancing, was taken over in 2016, a year after it was rated outstanding by Ofsted. It has not been inspected since.
It is hoping to open another free school in West Durrington. In its latest accounts, it acknowledged the loss of the Laurels impacted on its financial viability, and said it was working with the government “to ensure that another school is identified for it to sponsor in the future.”
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