Legal threat over closure 'mishandling'

16th October 2009 at 01:00
Union hits out as staff claim private school pressured them into a one-week notice period before shutting its doors

A teaching union is threatening legal action over the alleged "mishandling" of the closure of a 100-year-old prep school.

Attenborough Preparatory School in Nottingham shut in August, with the loss of 24 jobs, following months of financial uncertainty and a poor Ofsted report that made parents leave "in droves".

Attenborough, which catered for 80 children aged four to 11, but had only 42 on roll, is the latest in a string of private schools to shut their doors during the recession.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said the hours of Attenborough's 11 teachers had been gradually whittled away in the four years leading up to the closure.

Staff said that they were pressured to accept a reduction in their notice period from one term to one week in April, in order to save the school, which they believed would reopen in September.

One teacher, who did not wish to be named, said: "None of the staff wanted to accept the new notice terms, but we didn't feel we had any choice. We were worried about what would happen to the children if the school was shut immediately. It was a really sad end to what had been a friendly village school."

The union, which represents about 20,000 members in independent schools, said staff should legally get one week's redundancy pay for every year of service, up to a maximum of 12.

Malcolm Brock, ATL's regional official, said he was looking into the "mishandling" of the closure, and is considering potential claims for unfair dismissal and an award for failing to consult staff.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL's general secretary, demanded better protection for staff and pupils of schools forced to shut. She also called for a "fit and proper persons" test for anyone running an independent school.

"This is a stark warning to those working in independent schools not to give up their employment rights and to check with their union if they are unsure of anything," she said.

Robert Everist, the school's owner, who also runs a group of nursery schools, said he had done "everything" in his power to save the prep, ploughing pound;170,000 into it in its final year.

"I cannot assure you enough how desperate we were to keep the school open," he said.

He stated that staff had not been forced to sign away their notice periods, and they had been given plenty of warning of the school's difficulties and possible redundancies.

"If we have been so unfair, they should go down the tribunal route," he said.

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