At the end of last month, it emerged that the rate of school closures in England has dramatically increased in the past two years. Nearly a third of primaries and secondaries to shut in the past decade closed during 200708 and 200809 financial years, statistics show.
Small independent schools have frozen their fees and even offered parents discounts and incentives to attract new pupils, and many have been forced to close, merge or federate.
Alpha Plus Group, which runs 21 prep schools, nurseries and colleges across the country, blamed the recession for its decision to close the high-performing Cliff School in Wakefield. About 41 staff face losing their jobs in the move.
Arundale School in Pulborough, West Sussex, is one of the latest schools to fall victim to the downturn. It recently announced that the primary would close at the end of the summer term. "Despite our best efforts to reverse the decline in pupil numbers, the task has become impossible," says headteacher Kaye Lovejoy. At Arundale, about a dozen teachers now face redundancy.
But where do you stand if you work for one of the schools affected? If you find yourself in a situation where your school is planning to close - or even federate or merge with another school, putting your job at risk - it is important to know your rights, says Alexandra Bonner, partner and head of the London employment team at legal firm Blake Lapthorn.
For independent school teachers, statutory employment rights apply. "When a school closes, the teacher will be regarded as being dismissed," says Miss Bonner. "If the teacher has two continuous years of service, they will be entitled to a redundancy payment. This will be calculated at a week's pay (capped at pound;380) times the number of continuous years the teacher has been teaching at the school, times one-and-a-half if the teacher is over 41 years of age."
In the state sector, there could be enhanced redundancy provision in place, depending on your local education authority. "Local authorities are obligated to search for any available teaching posts that may be suitable for the teachers who have been made redundant," says Miss Bonner.
After the school has been declared insolvent, any remuneration still owed to employees will be classed as a preferential debt by the Insolvency Act 1986.
"This status does not guarantee that the employees will get back the full amount that they are owed," says Chanel Camilleri, a senior official with the legal and casework team at teaching union NASUWT.
"Other sums will have to be covered first, such as insolvency fees - which may mean there is little, if anything, to cover what is owed to the employees."
If there is not enough to cover what is owed to the staff, then employees should apply to the National Insurance Fund to recover payments. "This can cover up to eight weeks' arrears of salary, six weeks of holiday pay, pay to cover the notice period the employee should have received and statutory redundancy pay," adds Miss Camilleri.
Provided you have worked for a full year, you are entitled to challenge your redundancy in an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal. If you wish to do this, remember there is a strict time limit on any claim: three months from the date the dismissal takes effect.
- Statutory employment rights apply, unless your local authority has enhanced redundancy provision.
- Redundancy payment will be calculated at a week's pay (capped at pound;380) times the number of continuous years the teacher has been teaching at the school, times 1.5 if the teacher is over 41 years of age.
- If there is not enough money to cover what is owed to the staff, then employees should apply to the National Insurance Fund to recover payments.
- Provided you have worked for one full year, you are entitled to challenge your redundancy in an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal.