Exclusive: Schools facing surge in discrimination cases from teachers denied flexible working

Teaching union sees 14-fold increase in disputes involving flexible working

Martin George

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Schools are facing a surge in discrimination cases from teachers whose requests for flexible working arrangements have been denied, Tes can reveal.

All three teaching unions have confirmed the growing trend, which appears to fly in the face of government calls for more flexible working in order to retain and attract staff. 

In guidance issued in February, the Department for Education said “an increasing number of teachers want to work flexibly” – and that most of these are women returning from maternity leave or a career break.

But it found that the percentage of teachers working part-time is “significantly lower” than in the general population – 8.6 per cent of male and 26.4 per cent of female teachers, compared with 13 per cent and 42 per cent respectively in the national workforce.

“This is not just a problem for equality in the teaching workforce – it is also a factor in attracting and keeping high-quality teachers,” the guidance says.

'Significant increase in refusals'

But the experience of the unions suggests that, while the demand to work part-time is increasing, schools can be reluctant to grant it.

The NASUWT teaching union has seen a 14-fold rise in disputes involving members seeking flexible working, from 40 in 2012-13 to 562 in 2015-16.

Meanwhile, the ATL teaching union said it had seen "a significant increase in refusals to allow school staff to work part-time."

And Amanda Brown, assistant general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said the number of enquiries the union received about flexible working had "increased significantly". Between 2014 and 2016, the figure was more than 500, but already in 2017, it is more than 300.

She said: “I think there are a number of difficulties that school leaders immediately see. There are timetabling problems, particularly in secondary schools. And there is sometimes a perception of higher costs if people are sharing the job – extra national insurance contributions.

“Sometimes, particularly in primary schools, there’s a notion that younger pupils might be unsettled if they have more than one teacher teaching them. In fact, there are equally good reasons why it might be beneficial for children to have more than one teacher.”

If schools and academy trusts deny flexible working to teachers, it can amount to discrimination – leaving them open to union action and employment tribunal claims.

Under the Equality Act 2010, gender and age are among the “protected characteristics” that it is illegal to discriminate against; teachers’ unions have successfully fought for members who have suffered discrimination because of their part-time status, or who wish to work part-time.

This is an edited version of an article appearing in the 5 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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