The government guidance around maternity leave, shared parental leave, adoption leave and paternity pay is hard to decipher at the best of times.
Throw into the mix involving school holidays at the start or end of maternity leave and it gets even more confusing.
Clearing up confusion about maternity leave for teachers
Here are some of the most common myths around taking maternity leave as a teacher:
Myth 1: You cannot return to work at the beginning of a school holiday
There is genuine confusion among both teachers and employers about this. A recent poll I undertook on Twitter showed that dozens of teachers had been told by their employers that they had to return to work a day, sometimes a few weeks, before the holidays started if they wanted to get full pay for the holiday.
The facts: when you take maternity leave, your employer will assume that you will take the whole year that you are entitled to. You can decide a date before the baby is born, or keep your options open and inform your headteacher of a date during your maternity leave.
When that date is falls entirely up to you, the only requirement by law is that you give your employer notice. If your school is governed by the Burgundy Book, the notice period is 21 days; if not, the Work and Families Act 2006 applies and eight weeks’ notice is required.
The only legal ground on which an employer can refuse a return to work from maternity (or shared parental) leave is if the notice period has not been met. If you choose to go back on the first day of any school holidays, you must be paid in full for them. Any school not doing so would be acting unlawfully.
While some parents may wish to go back to school for a few days to prepare for their start back the following term, this is a choice. Many will have perfectly legitimate reasons for not doing so and this choice is not something that you have to justify.
KIT (keeping in touch) days can be used if you and your employer both agree to them, for the purposes of getting back in the loop before a full return. These can be taken at any time during maternity leave, as long as both parties agree. KIT days are paid at your full pay daily rate.
Myth 2: You can only take shared parental leave if your partner does, too
There are lots of misunderstandings around shared parental leave (SPL). It is relatively new (2015) and many HR departments won’t yet have had someone use it. My website provides a lot of information on how it works and how to apply (I thoroughly recommend looking into this as it can mean thousands of pounds of extra income during maternity leave).
I speak to a lot of women who experience some pushback from schools about taking SPL. One of the most common problems is an insistence that the partner must also take SPL. This is not true. There must be a partner (although they don’t have to be in a relationship with you, being the parent of the child is enough) and the partner must be eligible for SPL (see the eligibility checker) but they don’t have to take even a single day of SPL for you to take it, nor do you for them to take it.
The government website states that a woman can share her SPL with her partner, but there is no requirement for it. The easiest way to clarify this to an employer that is unsure is to show it the SPL forms downloadable from the government website. The grid at the start of those forms clearly shows the three different ways parents can share SPL: both, just the mother or just the partner.
Myth 3: When you return to work during SPL, your partner must be on leave
The information above largely answers this myth, too – in that it is possible for the partner to not take any SPL at all. However, if the partner does want to take SPL, they can take it at any time, provided that the mother has given binding notice to curtail her maternity leave in the future.
The partner can take three blocks of SPL, as long as between you the total leave taken amounts to no more than 52 weeks. The parents can both be on leave at the same time, one can be on leave and the other at work and it is also fine for there to be periods during which you are both at work and no one is on leave. One of the benefits of SPL is how flexible it is.
Kinza Louise Barrett is director of maths at Holmleigh Park High School