June 2016

The know zone

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    Heather Mitchell explores the key issues schools and colleges should consider carefully when managing redundancies and restructuring. More
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Heather Mitchell explores the key issues schools and colleges should consider carefully when managing redundancies and restructuring.

Time for sensitivity

With the realities of cuts in funding streams, increases in pension contributions and National Insurance, coupled with – in many cases – an ageing and more expensive workforce, few ASCL members will be able to avoid the inevitable financial squeeze affecting their schools and colleges.

While, in most cases, it will be possible to make efficiencies in a number of areas across the school budget, the reality is that with staffing making up around 80 per cent of the annual spend, redundancies will be very difficult to avoid, albeit as a last resort.

Whether you are leading, or being affected by, a redundancy programme, you will know that it has to be handled with extreme sensitivity. Staff morale can be damaged for the long term if there isn’t clear and meaningful consultation. Open communication from the start is the best approach.

Leadership restructure

Traditionally, when cutting the staff budget, leaders have focused on restructuring support teams while protecting teachers and the senior team. In many cases, a forecasted deficit will mean this will no longer be possible.

When carrying out a leadership team restructure, the key is forward planning. As soon as those affected are made aware that their role is at risk, they will want to have absolute clarity on what the proposals are, the timescales, the process and how they are personally affected. No amount of advance planning can be too much.

Before the proposed structure is announced, the school needs to be clear on the timetable and method of selection. The marker for the timetable is that the school is bound by the teacher notice periods. If the restructure is planned to take effect after Easter, notice has to be given by the end of February.

When taking into account the need for a genuine consultation period and notice required of dismissal hearings, this is not a process that can be rushed.

For a leadership team restructure the method of selection should be by interview. This can be combined with other methods such as completion of a skills matrix prior to interview (for more junior posts the school may decide that it can be done by skills matrix without the need for interview).

One of the risk areas with a restructure is that the selection is not carried out objectively. Therefore the school or college needs to ensure that there is a robust system which will allow it to demonstrate objectively how individuals have been scored and why the selection has resulted in that outcome.

Direct match?

A tricky issue can be the extent to which you ring-fence posts. Positions are being removed and new posts created with different functions; those affected may argue that the newly-created posts are so similar to their current responsibilities that they should directly slot in. If that is not the case, the school or college will need to have a very tightly-drawn job description to justify the differences in the restructured positions.

Contribution from the EFA?

For those schools that are academies, it is worth checking the provisions of the funding agreement. Depending on when the school became an academy and whether sponsorship has been involved you might have a clause whereby the Education Funding Agency (EFA) will pay an element of the redundancy costs that arise out of the restructure. This can help reduce some of the impact of this inherently costly process.

Impact on affected staff

For those who are told that they are at risk of redundancy, it will be a very stressful period. ASCL members in this position are best advised to be well informed about their own contractual position and come to any consultation meetings armed with prepared questions to clearly establish their position.

There is unlikely to be much scope for fighting the need for the restructure itself if the proposals are for genuine financial reasons, but by knowing your contractual and redundancy pay entitlements (including whether the school’s or college’s policy allows for enhanced redundancy) and clearly understanding whether there is a post you have the skills for in the revised restructure, you can make an informed decision about your options. Affected members may want to establish whether they would be able to take their pension and any tax consequences of this.

Heather Mitchell is an Employment Lawyer at Browne Jacobson LLP

Restructuring advice

ASCL members who are themselves affected by restructuring, should call the ASCL Hotline immediately for advice on 0116 299 1122.