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Know your rights

For teachers facing redundancy, the financial payoff may seem like adding insult to injury, warns Susannah Kirkman

Teachers are usually shocked when they hear how little compensation they are likely to get if they are made redundant, according to union officials who have been fielding hundreds of calls from members worried their jobs are on the line.

Any teacher awarded a statutory redundancy payment (the amount to which any employee is legally entitled) would get a maximum of only pound;7,800, even if he or she was earning more than pound;30,000 a year and had more than 20 years' continuous service.

The Government sets strict limits on statutory payments. For each complete year of continuous service between the ages of 22 and 40, you are entitled to one week's pay; for each complete year of continuous service between the ages of 41 and 65, you are entitled to one-and-a-half weeks' pay. But the maximum you can claim for a week's pay is pound;260, and you cannot include more than 20 years' service. Someone aged 40 with a gross weekly pay of pound;500 and 18 years' continuous service, for example, would receive just pound;4,680.

Successive jobs in the maintained sector are all defined as continuous service, including any maternity or sick leave. The bad news is that employment in an independent school does not count towards continuous service in maintained schools. If you are about to be made redundant at a state school and your previous job was in an independent, your years at St Trinian's will not count, nor will any previous service in a maintained school.

On the plus side, public sector employers have discretion to pay more than the statutory minimum of pound;260 a week when calculating redundancy payments. The regulations say any amount up to the actual weekly salary can be used in the calculations. Obviously, some schools can afford to be more generous than others, and independent schools tend to be particularly parsimonious, the unions say.

Make sure you allow four weeks and a day before accepting a job offer or taking up a new post in the state sector, otherwise you could lose your redundancy money.

Severance payments are another option. The employer may pay these on top of a redundancy payment, or you may have the choice of taking redundancy or "voluntary severance". The maximum you can receive is two weeks' pay for each full year of service before the age of 41, and up to five weeks' pay for each full year over 41. You cannot receive more than 66 weeks' pay. In a local authority school, it is up to the governors to decide whether to offer severance and how much. The cost is borne by the local authority.

Teachers made redundant at 50 or over are eligible for premature retirement. But this is now rarely granted, as some of the pension costs must be met by the local authority.

For further information, consult your union

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