legal ease

13th November 2015 at 00:00
Grand plans for grannies

The head of maths at your school comes to see you. She’s vastly experienced, a great teacher and indispensable. She sits down and explains that her daughter is having a baby next year. “Congratulations,” you reply, wondering where this is going. She straightens in her chair and comes out with it: “I would like to take grandparents’ leave, please.”

From 2018, this scenario could become a reality. Chancellor George Osborne announced the move to enable grandparents to take time off to assist with childcare at the Conservative Party conference earlier this year. School leaders will need to be ready.

An estimated 7 million grandparents are involved in childcare. The new proposals recognise that many are also still employed. With increased life expectancy and pressures on pensions, this is likely to continue.

The government has cited evidence that suggests nearly 2 million grandparents have given up work, reduced their hours or taken time off to help cut childcare costs. It also shows that more than half of mothers rely on grandparents for childcare when they first go back to work after maternity leave, and more than 60 per cent of workers with grandchildren aged under 16 provide some childcare.

What is grandparents’ leave?

The proposals aim to make life easier for anyone in this situation. They follow on from the introduction of shared parental leave this year. This enables parents of babies born after 5 April 2015 to opt for shared leave as an alternative to traditional maternity leave. Parents can now share up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay between them.

The idea is to give parents much more flexibility over how they choose to care for their child in the first year of its life, rather than this remaining the preserve of a mother on a fixed period of maternity leave.

It is envisaged that working grandparents will be able to take leave in the first year of a baby’s life to help care for them. The details of the legislation are subject to consultation, so it still needs to be clarified whether families will need to nominate two main carers – for example, the mother and grandmother – to have the right to shared leave, or whether these rights will be in addition to those of parents.

Employers will also have to wrestle with the decision of whether to enhance any shared parental and/or grandparental pay, particularly if they offer enhanced maternity pay.

Where next?

This proposal is a strong indication of the government’s commitment to providing working families with greater flexibility over their choice of childcare arrangements.

While many schools will be sympathetic to this legislation, there is no doubt that it will bring challenges. Schools will need to consider how best to ensure continuity of provision for pupils, and will need to explore flexible contractual arrangements with staff engaged to provide cover.

Alice Reeve is a partner at leading education law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards

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