The Falcon Education Academies Trust was parachuted in to help turn around the fortunes of ailing Thornaby Academy, taking over in September last year.
It has slashed free school meals for around 20 staff at the school on Baysdale Road from the budget, in a saving it claims amounts to between £4,000 and £5,000 a year.
The cutback had previously been left untouched by the Department for Education’s cost-cutting consultants, despite the school suffering a budget shortfall and low pupil numbers.
According to reports, the school’s former owners Teesside Learning Trust said it had made “every effort” to contain costs.
A spokesperson for the Falcon Education Academies Trust said: “When we took on Thornaby in September 2020, we found that a small number of staff were receiving lunches, so we stopped this practice except where staff were entitled to them, for instance if they were on duty.
“We are keen to continue this and value our staff hugely.
“The savings made have been directed back into the school’s budget to support the students’ education, which is our number one priority.”
Free staff meals are rare, with only 4% of primary and 10% of secondary teachers receiving the perk – however they are common for staff on lunchtime duty.
According to a report in schools publication Schools Week, the now inactive Teesside Learning Trust said the only staff getting free lunches at Thornaby Academy were those on lunchtime duty, costing around £3,000 a year.
This policy had faced several reviews, but each found it cheaper than paying teachers to work during breaks, or hiring lunchtime supervisors, the report said.
Under the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, staff are entitled to a “reasonable” break, and cannot be forced to work during lunch.
A 2019 Ofsted report rated Thornaby Academy inadequate in all areas.
The Falcon trust, a Department for Education pilot, turns around schools in the north of England with a “history of under-performance in academic standards or with financial issues”.
Its leaders have a track record in school improvement and management of finances.
The academy has since received North East Opportunity funding under the One Vision programme.
“Under the programme,” a school spokesperson said, “under-performing schools have been transformed to become the most high-performing in the country.
“The programme has commissioned subject experts to work with teachers to transform the curriculum, improve the quality of teaching and learning and accelerate pupils’ progress.
It is a strategy that is “already paying dividends”, they added.
“An Ofsted Inspection in February 2020 praised the improvements the Academy has made in such a short space of time.”
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