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Pregnant pauses

When Lucy Barford changed jobs, her LEA saw it as a break in continuous service and refused her full maternity pay. Susannah Kirkman reports. Lucy Barford's delight at the news of her pregnancy soon turned to dismay when she found that she would lose Pounds 2,000 in maternity benefit because she is to take up a new post in a different education authority.

"I am losing money to which I'm entitled for doing something perfectly normal - having a baby. It's very shoddy treatment," she says.

Lucy Barford had always intended to return to her original school, a Leeds comprehensive, where she had worked for nearly seven years. But when, after a series of temporary contracts, her husband managed to find a permanent teaching job in Cheshire, she told the school that she would not be coming back. The day after beginning her maternity leave, she found a new job as head of art at a Trafford school, just outside Cheshire. She is due to start in September, cutting her 18 weeks' maternity leave to 14.

When Lucy informed the personnel department at Leeds education authority about the Trafford post, she was at first told she would receive her full entitlement to maternity pay as there would be no break in her service - four weeks on full pay, two weeks on 90 per cent of her salary, plus 12 weeks on half pay. However, this was soon rescinded and Lucy was told she would lose her rights to the 12 weeks on half pay.

"I am now planning and liaising with my new school so that I can organise work in September, as well as completing any outstanding national curriculum record cards for my old school, all for Pounds 54 a week, the statutory maternity pay."

Lucy is not the only teacher to have lost benefits in this way. At present, her union, the National Union of Teachers, is dealing with a number of similar cases, including one which is about to come before an industrial tribunal.

Graham Clayton, the union's legal adviser, says that it is a discrimination issue. "This is peculiar to maternity leave; it doesn't apply to men on sick leave. They will not be asked to repay their sickness benefit if they resume work with a different school," he says.

At the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, Elaine Goswell-Cross, principal officer for salaries and conditions of service, describes the qualifying conditions for maternity pay as a quirk in the regulations. She points out that, within the public sector, unbroken service is usually deemed to be continuous - even if people move from job to job. For the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, for instance, continuous service is recognised as the years spent teaching in the state sector, regardless of the number of times a teacher has changed schools.

Some local authorities are allowing women teachers to keep their maternity pay, even if they do not return to the same job. Under the national conditions of service, LEAs are also allowed to reduce the 13-week period during which a woman must resume work after maternity leave to qualify for full maternity pay.

But some schools are tempted to save money by delaying a teacher's return, particularly if the end of her leave coincides with the beginning of a school holiday. Employers have the right to postpone a teacher's return by up to four weeks, depriving her of a month's full pay.

The prospects for women teachers wishing to return part-time or to a job-share have, however, improved since a Leicestershire teacher won her case against unfair dismissal after her school refused to find her a job-share. Sheila Clay, an English teacher at English Martyrs School, successfully argued that her employers were discriminating against her by requiring her to work full-time, a condition which it is easier for men to comply with than for women.

Graham Clayton says this case is forcing schools to reconsider their attitude to job-shares; since the Clay judgment, the NUT has only had to bring two similar cases to an industrial tribunal.


* To qualify for the maximum leave, you must have completed at least two years' continuous service with one or more LEAs by the beginning of the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth. This entitles you to up to 29 weeks' postnatal maternity leave and up to 11 weeks' leave before the birth.

* To qualify for the maximum financial benefits, you must have completed at least one year's continuous service. You will then receive four weeks on full pay, the next two weeks on 90 per cent of your salary and the following 12 weeks on half pay, plus the statutory maternity pay. Any leave longer than 18 weeks will be unpaid.

* If you fail to return for at least 13 weeks at the end of your maternity leave, the LEA has the discretion to ask you to refund your maternity pay, excluding the statutory maternity pay, which currently amounts to 90 per cent of your salary during the first six weeks and about Pounds 54 a week for the following 12 weeks. If you have at least two years' continuous service, you are allowed to keep all of the first six weeks' pay, * If you are entitled to the longer postnatal leave of up to 29 weeks, you must give your employer 21 days' notice in writing of the date on which you intend to return to work, otherwise you could lose your right to return.

* Maternity Matters is available from the NUT, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD. Pregnancy and Work; Information and Calendar is available from NASUWT, Hillscourt Education Centre, Rednal, Birmingham B45 8RS

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