Most of us are guilty of sometimes failing to read the small print in documents outlining terms and conditions.
But senior leaders working in multi-academy trusts are discovering that not properly scrutinising their contracts of employment can have serious consequences.
Heads and other leaders have found themselves being asked to relocate over 100 miles away, or have been lumbered with two-year probation periods, because they failed to properly read the fine detail in their employment contracts.
The Association of School and College Leaders is warning that academy chains and standalone trusts are inserting increasingly tough clauses into the contracts of employment that they sign with their senior leaders.
Sara Ford, ASCL’s pay and conditions specialist, says the union has seen a rise in complaints from members who have discovered unpleasant surprises in their contracts.
One of the biggest issues affecting members is “mobility clauses”. “Quite often they’re vague,” Ford says. “They say that this will be your usual place of work, but the employer reserves the right to change that to somewhere else that they deem reasonable.
“But what you deem reasonable and what they deem reasonable may not be the same thing.”
Ford says ASCL has been contacted by members who have been unexpectedly asked to relocate more than 100 miles away by their employer.
The union has also seen trusts inserting much longer probation periods into contracts – including some that have run for two years.
Probation periods give organisations more scope to dismiss employees. Those with long probation periods can find themselves struggling to secure mortgages or make other financial commitments.
Ford says some trusts have also cut back on sickness and maternity entitlements, and that leaders have been denied pay progression because their contracts contained no details about how their salary would be reviewed.
In terms of what is behind the tough clauses, Ford points to the geographical development of the academy system – some MATs now span the country.
A second factor is the increasingly challenging financial environment, which has driven trusts to clamp down on non-pay entitlements and create contracts that give them greater flexibility.
As far as pay progression is concerned, Ford thinks that MATs should be much more transparent about pay-setting arrangements: individuals working above headteacher level are not covered by the school teachers’ pay and conditions document, and trusts rarely publish their pay policies.
But it is also essential for leaders to check their contracts. “It’s a naivety, in a way, on behalf of people who are making unsafe assumptions about how a contract might be implemented,” Ford says.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association, which counts MAT leaders among its membership, said: “I don’t have any evidence that MATs as employers are behaving inappropriately.”
She added: “I certainly know that some MATs want to put in contracts the capacity to move between schools in the MAT in order to create capacity to improve outcomes for children and young people, and to get their senior leaders working in schools that would most benefit from their leadership and their expertise.”