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How to grasp the nettle

Even those hardened lawyers who sit on industrial tribunals recognise that "making teachers compulsorily redundant is a most harrowing exercise for all concerned." That was the conclusion of the tribunal which heard one of the first complaints against unfair dismissal to arise under local management .

In the complaint against the governors of Horsell School, Surrey, the tribunal recognised the consequences for pupils if a school was disrupted by the tension of a badly organised redundancy exercise and the dilemma which faces the head and governors.

"The balance between on the one hand giving staff potentially at risk as much warning as possible and on the other running the risk of a long period of tension, worry and lack of morale with consequent side-effects on the performance of the staff and children is a fine balance which the governors must weigh carefully."

But once all the avenues for avoiding redundancy have been exhausted, the nettle of compulsory redundancy must be grasped by the governing body. Objective criteria for selection are vital. The Horsell tribunal believed that instances where selection for redundancy could be based on straightforward objective criteria such as "no teaching post available" or "curriculum needs" are rare and that staffing committees might wish to draw up a much more comprehensive list of considerations including: special subject requirements; length of service; seniority; expertise; lack of qualifications to teach at certain ages; or a capacity to switch between subjects or age groups.

Such criteria should be "factual matters capable of verification one way or the other and above all capable of being assessed by governors who may not have a detailed knowledge of the curriculum."

The tribunal also thought heads of department should be involved and for their recorded comments and recommendations to be included in the process.

If choices had to be made between teachers who were very closely matched on such objectively assessable criteria, "it may be that more controversial, qualitative judgments may have to be made . . . such as attendance, record, performance, exam results and appraisals."

Such assessments should be based on routine termly assessments rather than appraisals carried out against a background of impending redundancies. The tribunal also underlined the importance of consulting unions on the proposed criteria.

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