Legal issues

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
The threat of teacher redundancies is said to have receded following the Education Secretary's announcement that cash-strapped schools can use building work funds to meet their salary bills.

But job cuts would have done little to help schools balance their 20034 budgets. They offered few short-term savings because most schools would not have been able to terminate teachers' contracts before December 31.* As that is over two-thirds of the way through the financial year schools would only have saved three months' salary in the first year. Substantial redundancy payments would also have had to be found from the 20034 budget.

It is also worth remembering that schools have a legal obligation to make every effort to avoid redundancies. Before deciding to shed a job a school must conduct a detailed review of staffing and weigh this against other budget headings.

Consultation with staff, unions and local education authorities should begin as soon as redundancy is contemplated. If there is no alternative, the school's redundancy procedure must then be scrupulously followed, and selection criteria drawn up.

The criteria should be as objective as possible, allowing proper comparison between individuals. "Last-in-first-out" and length of service are often advocated, but these might now breach disability and sex discrimination laws. Women, for example, are more likely than men to have taken a break in service. It may therefore be wiser to consider factors such as management responsibilities, flexibility, contribution to the wider life of the school and attendance record. Staff audits are invaluable in establishing an objective approach.

A woman on maternity leave is not exempt from consideration, but care must be taken to include her in consultations. From this year this also applies to fathers taking paternity leave and adoptive parents on adoption leave.

It may be possible to make savings by not renewing fixed-term contracts but employers cannot unilaterally shorten them. Neither can part-time contracts be adjusted to fit a school's changing requirements. Since 2000, part-time staff have been entitled to the same treatment as full-timers.

Once someone has been singled out for redundancy, usually by a governors'

panel but sometimes by the head, and the person has been notified, time for an appeal must be allowed, normally 10 days.

*This deadline can only be brought forward if all redundancy procedures have been completed by May 31.

See: Employment Rights Act 1996; Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000; Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002.; Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

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