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Overcapacity within education 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.

Preparation is key

Once you have announced a proposed restructure, employees and their unions are likely to have lots of questions. If the proposed restructure will result in redundancies, you will need to be in a position to terminate employment fairly by establishing that there is a genuine redundancy situation. Before starting consultation, it’s, therefore, a good idea to put together a detailed plan, including the following:

  • The reasons why the school needs to restructure;
  • Which groups of staff will be affected;
  • What the staffing structure looks like before and after the change;
  • How the restructure will be carried out; and
  • A proposed time frame.

The process of developing this plan should also address that there is a genuine need for a restructure and that this is not just a knee-jerk reaction to a short-term problem.

Something else to bear in mind when looking at potential savings is whether there is likely to be any safeguarding of pay once you have made the proposed changes. In some circumstances, safeguarding can last for up to three years, so, for some staff, the potential wage savings may take some time to ease your bottom line.

Once this plan is complete, you can also use this to help governors who will need to approve a proposal to change the staffing structure.

Do you need to collectively consult?

Collective consultation is the process of consulting with representatives of employees who are likely to be affected by the restructure. Where your school recognises one or more unions, this 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 30 days. For these purposes, the term ‘redundant’ has a broad meaning. As well as applying to any employees who are likely to lose their job, it will also include those whose jobs may be changed as a result of the restructure.

Where there is a duty to collectively consult, you must wait 30 calendar days (or 45 days where 100 or more employees may be affected) before any dismissal or change takes place.

Where fewer than 20 employees are likely to be affected, you should still check your own restructure policies for additional requirements in relation to consultation.

Collective consultation with unions or other employee representatives will not replace the requirement to consult individually with employees.

Consider voluntary redundancies

To reduce the number of compulsory redundancies, you 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 you may lose members of staff that had significant experience and skills that you would have preferred to retain.

If staff are invited to volunteer, you should ensure that any applications for voluntary redundancy are made subject to acceptance by the school, and reserve the right to refuse any application in the event that it does not fit with the school’s needs.

How long will it take?

Once your school has decided to go ahead with a restructure, you’ll often be keen to get it done. However, there are several factors which could impact how long it may take:

  1. The consultation period (see above): where collective consultation is required, this could add up to an additional 45 days to the process.
  2. Timing of governors meetings: these are often scheduled several months in advance. Waiting until the next full scheduled meeting before a decision can be made could cause a significant delay. You may consider asking governors for more flexibility to attend meetings at short notice and/or delegating some decision making to a subcommittee set up for that purpose.
  3. School holidays: the majority of school staff are not contractually obliged to attend work during school closure periods. Therefore, it’s not possible to meet with staff (unless they agree) to progress the restructure during those times.
  4. Notice periods: if a restructure results in redundancies or changes to job roles, those affected will be entitled to a notice period. The length will depend on the contract of employment and length of service but maybe up to three months. For teachers, it’s 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 for calculating the likely time frames for a restructuring exercise would be to start from the date you would want to implement the new structure and work back from there, incorporating all the necessary stages and to ensure that the process starts in good time.

Stay in control

Once you have announced a restructure and consultation begins, it can be challenging to stay in control of the process, especially if this is your first school restructure. Your head may feel bombarded by questions from staff and unions who may also want additional time to consider the information given to them. And where the process has been timed to hit a particular termination date, even a slight delay could result in significantly higher notice payments than you had originally anticipated.

To avoid the process being derailed in this way, as well as anticipating potential issues at the planning stage, you should ensure that requests for further information are considered and dealt with promptly and not left until the end of the consultation period.

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