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The BBC has reported on the growing numbers of schools in financial difficulties, with the Association of School and College Leaders warning that thousands of primary and secondary schools are close to becoming financially unviable.
With a resolution of the funding issues in education still some way off, educational establishments are looking for ways of plugging gaps in their budgets.
Overcapacity within staffing structures is one area where vital costs savings can be made. However, restructuring can be met with significant opposition from staff and unions and negatively impact on morale, especially where redundancies need to be made.
We are working with a number of schools that have decided to carry out staffing restructures. These have presented their own challenges to the governors and senior leadership teams which we have been able to combat.
Once a proposed restructure is announced, employees and their unions are likely to have lots of questions.
Also, if the proposed restructure will result in redundancies, the school will need to be in a position to terminate employment fairly by establishing that there is a genuine redundancy situation.
Therefore, before starting consultation, it is a good idea to put together a detailed plan including:
The process of developing this plan should also confirm to the school that there is a genuine need for a restructure and that this is not just a knee-jerk reaction to a short-term problem.
Once this plan is complete, it can also be used to assist governors in reaching an agreeance, given that they will need to approve a proposal to change the staffing structure.
Collective consultation is the process of consulting with representatives of employees that are likely to be affected by the restructuring. Where a school recognises one or more unions, this consultation will be with representatives from those unions.
The duty to collectively consult arises where an employer proposes to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees within a 30 day period.
For these purposes, the term ‘redundant’ has a wide meaning. As well as applying to any employees that are likely to lose their job, it will also include those whose jobs may be changed as a result of the restructure.
Collective consultation with unions or other employee representatives will not replace the requirement to consult individually with employees.
To reduce the number of compulsory redundancies, a school may wish to consider inviting staff to apply for voluntary redundancy.
The advantages to this are that voluntary redundancies are likely to have a less negative impact on morale among remaining staff and remove the need to go through a full redundancy process.
However, there is a risk that schools may lose members of staff that had significant experience and skills that they would have preferred to retain.
If members of staff are invited to volunteer, schools should ensure that any applications for voluntary redundancy are made subject to acceptance by the school and they reserve the right to refuse any application in the event that it does not fit with the needs of the school.
Once a decision has been made to proceed with a restructure, schools are often keen to implement their plans. However, there are a number of factors that could impact how long a restructure may take.
As set out above, where collective consultation is required this could add up to an additional 45 days to the process.
Governors’ meetings are often scheduled several months in advance. Waiting until the next scheduled full meeting before a decision can be made, could cause a significant delay in the process.
Schools may consider requesting more flexibility from Governors to attend meetings at short notice and/or delegating some decision making to a subcommittee set up for that purpose.
The majority of staff in schools are not contractually obliged to attend work during school closure periods. Therefore, it would not be possible to meet with staff (unless they agreed to do so) to progress the restructure during those times.
In the event that a restructure results in redundancies or changes to job roles, those affected will be entitled to a notice period. The length of notice will depend on the contract of employment and length of service but may be up to three months. For teachers, it is also important to note that under the Burgundy Book terms and conditions there are only three days in a year when notice can be given (31 October, 28/29 February and 31 May).
Our advice to schools wanting to calculate the likely time frames for a restructuring exercise would be to start from the date that they would want to implement the new structure and work back from there, incorporating all of the necessary stages, to ensure that the process is started in good time.
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