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Know your rights

As schools start waving redundancy notices, Susannah Kirkman gives advice on how to get the best deal for those whose jobs are in jeopardy

Unions are being swamped with calls from anxious teachers fearing redundancy.The National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have been urging members to resist redundancy, particularly if the reason given is the current funding crisis.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers says it is trying to resolve the issues with "the least anguish" for its members. "We don't know how many are going to be made redundant, as even if employers issue redundancy notices, governing bodies and local authorities are under a duty to find alternative employment for the person issued with redundancy," says Martin Pilkington, head of the ATL's legal and member services.

Compulsory redundancies are rare in schools as teachers can often be deployed elsewhere. But employers have to follow redundancy procedures meticulously to avoid claims for unfair dismissal. Governing bodies are responsible for making the decisions, and as soon as redundancy is mooted, they must organise a full consultation with staff, unions and the local authority. Only if there is no alternative should heads select staff for redundancy.

To ensure fair treatment, heads must: warn staff about redundancy as soon as possible; consult with teacher unions; establish objective criteria for the selection of staff for redundancy; apply criteria fairly; take reasonable steps to find alternative employment; include staff on parental leave in the consultations.

Applying redundancy criteria equitably can be extremely difficult. The traditional "last in, first out" rule could be discrimination if it's applied to women who have recently taken a career break. It could also rob a school of some of its best teachers. Factors such as management responsibilities, attendance record and contribution to the school could be considered, but the head must be careful to base any decision on strong evidence, otherwise the governors could face a challenge at an employment tribunal. Imprecise criteria such as "flexibility" or "balance of skills" may also be criticised by a tribunal.

Criteria must not discriminate on grounds of race, sex or disability.

Part-timers must not be treated less favourably than full-timers.

If you are selected to go, you can appeal to a panel of governors, who should conduct a full hearing. Once you have exhausted internal procedures, you can claim unfair dismissal, but must do so within three months.

If you are not told about an alternative, appropriate vacancy, your dismissal may be ruled unfair. But you do have to consider any suitable job offers, otherwise you may lose your redundancy pay.

Acas, tel: 020 7210 3613, or www.acas.org.uk

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