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Working in an academy

A rapid expansion of the academies programme is a cornerstone of Conservative education policy, but what are teachers' options if their school changes its status?

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A rapid expansion of the academies programme is a cornerstone of Conservative education policy, but what are teachers' options if their school changes its status?

The new Government is determined to make a rapid increase in the number of academies, so the chances of your school becoming one have markedly risen. And for some teachers that is not a welcome prospect. A TES Magazine poll shows that three-quarters of teachers would not be happy to work in an academy.

Political principles aside, there are good reasons to be wary. Academies are free to set their own conditions on pay, hours, maternity and sick leave - often to the detriment of their staff.

The good news, however, is that if the school you are teaching at becomes an academy, your existing salary and working conditions are protected under Transfer of Undertakings legislation (Tupe).

So while academies can set their own terms for new teachers, they cannot force them on staff already in place.

Even if two schools merge to become an academy, if you taught in either of those schools you will be covered by Tupe regulations.

It is possible that the new management will try to persuade you to switch to their preferred contract. For example, you might be offered a salary above the national scale, but in signing up to that, you will have to agree to new conditions.

"Look carefully at what is on offer," warns Andrew Morris, the NUT's head of salaries. "In return for a small pay rise, you could be giving up some fundamental rights."

Be aware, too, that Tupe regulations will not protect you from restructuring. Legally, the new employer can make any changes that the old employer could have made, such as altering the working day or merging two departments.

There is also the risk of redundancy. At Crest Boys' Academy in London, for example, staff recently went on strike after seven teachers were told they would lose their jobs.

But while some academies attract negative publicity and union wrath, others can be models of good practice.

"Everything we want to achieve here can be done on teachers' existing terms - I feel strongly about that," says Barry Fishwick, executive principal of Manchester Creative and Media Academies, which runs two academies in the city. "Any changes we make to working practices will be done through consultation with staff."

Of course, if you object to academies on principle, or feel that a sponsor will insist on an ethos you are uncomfortable about, it may be best to move on.

"Some teachers choose to leave when they learn their school is becoming an academy," says the NUT's Mr Morris. "In those instances, we work closely with the local authority to try to identify suitable posts in other schools."

The alternative is to stay put, and give the new regime a chance. "A lot of people make presumptions about academies," says Mr Fishwick.

"But just as no two schools are the same, so every academy is different. In the end, what matters most is not what the place is called, but whether or not you enjoy working there."

Where do you stand?

  • If an existing school or schools become an academy, Tupe regulations apply. If the academy is set up from scratch, they do not.
  • If you are offered a new contract, check the details on sick pay, maternitypaternity leave and pensions.
  • Do not just look at the salary on offer; look at the whole pay scale, to ensure that increments are in line with national standards.
  • Teaching unions provide advice about pay and conditions in academies on their websites.

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