Staff at Stevenage’s Barclay School have been told their employment will transfer to Future Academies on February 1 – with an education union spokesman describing the timing of the announcement as “scandalous”.

The multi-academy trust is set to take over the running of the school despite opposition from both parents and staff, who were informed on the last day of term about the transfer of employment.

The National Education Union is in dispute with Hertfordshire County Council over the move and members took strike action on December 12 in opposition.

The NEU has said in a meeting with the local authority on December 11 the union was given assurances that there would be no transfer until April 2019 at the earliest, but now a February 1 date has been announced.

Commenting on the developments, Paul McLaughlin – regional secretary for the eastern region of the NEU – said: “Announcing this move, on the last day of term, is a cynical and desperate act designed to cause maximum anxiety and disruption while trying to force things through with undue haste.

“Hertfordshire County Council has some serious questions to answer – was the timing of this their decision or was it forced on them by the Department for Education? It will clearly not be possible to carry out appropriate due diligence and fulfil legal obligations to consult in this timeframe and it is scandalous that this should be announced on the last day of term. The school is a precious asset and cannot be given away in the manner of a cut-price Christmas sale.

“As well as the welfare of staff and pupils, we have concerns over the land which is a prime asset and a £20m Henry Moore statue that currently sits proudly in the school’s reception area.

“Members have shown they are prepared to take action to defend the school from hostile takeover, further industrial action is planned if this timetable is not altered.”

In response, a spokeswoman for Herts County Council said: “The date of the transfer to academy status is determined by the regional schools commissioner. The local authority has a legal obligation to facilitate the transfer. Once the date was set we felt it was important, in conjunction with the school, to inform staff at the earliest opportunity to give them as much notice as possible.”

Academies are publicly-funded independent schools, receiving money direct from the government and not the local county council. They are run by an academy trust which employs the staff, and they do not have to follow the national curriculum.

The forced move to academisation at Barclay came about after the Walkern Road school was rated inadequate by Ofsted following an inspection in July 2016 and placed in special measures.

But an Ofsted inspection in April this year found the school had made significant improvement and progressed to requires improvement, with elements of good.

The Hands Off Barclay campaign, which has seen a petition against academisation receive more than 1,600 signatures, is holding a public meeting to update members of the community on the situation, with the secretaries of the NEU and the Anti-Academies Alliance both set to speak.

The meeting will take place from 7.30pm to 9pm in Stevenage Old Town’s Bunyan Baptist Church on Wednesday, January 9, and will be chaired by county councillor Joshua Bennett Lovell.