Andrew Lifford is a former secondary school teacher, teacher trainer and education researcher. He has worked at Portland School, Google, The Key, Researchers in Schools and Teach First. The views in this post do not represent the views of Edapt.

There’s been a number of news stories recently where some multi-academy trusts (MATs) have been testing employment changes to teachers’ pay and working conditions. These changes have looked at seeking changes to notice periods, sick pay, parental leave and probation. After consultation and feedback, these changes have not come into force, however, it is interesting to see MATs testing the limits to see what teachers and unions will deem as acceptable.

The Burgundy Book (last updated in 2000) includes conditions of services for school teachers in maintained schools in England and Wales. It is normally incorporated into teachers’ contracts of employment and includes national arrangements for teachers’ sick leave, resignation and notice periods.

Academies do not actually have to adhere to the conditions outlined in the Burgundy Book, however, very few academies have moved away completely from provisions outlined in the document.

Schools Week has reported that one academy trust wanted to ‘shake up’ notice periods for its staff. Essentially, under the current system, if a teacher is given notice on May 31, they don’t leave their employment until August 31.

“Forcing staff to leave at the end of the summer term without paying them during August.”

The academy trust in question wanted to include in new employment contracts the power to give staff notice in mid-April, forcing them to leave at the end of the summer term (crucially without paying them during August).

The TES reported that another change was the minimum notice period for staff on probation, with some some staff being “dismissed with effect from the end of term with only a few days’ notice.”

The trust had also consulted on removing all reference to the Burgundy Book on conditions of service from staff contracts but is no longer proposing a move away from national pay and conditions.

In addition, the trust has dropped plans for staff involved in a capability or disciplinary process to have their sick pay restricted to three months.

According to Schools Week, the academy trust said its changes will have only affect 1% of staff and will save the trust £500,000 – the equivalent of 20 jobs.

“Changes will have only affect 1% of staff and will save the trust £500,000 – the equivalent of 20 jobs.”

It’s certainly interesting as academies have more freedoms than maintained schools, and in theory, could make these changes with careful consultation with staff and stakeholders.

There are arguments on both sides that by making certain changes to employment contracts schools could save money, but what would be the impact on recruiting and retaining members of staff if working conditions are more advantageous elsewhere?

Also would new teachers entering the profession, without prior knowledge of conditions, question or even notice these changes? Teachers can vote with their feet and have the choice to work in any school they want to, but the impact would be felt with teachers with existing contracts in place who feel their conditions are being eroded away.

The issue of school funding will continue to be a major issue but this might be a leap too soon with some of the criticism faced by the MATs who have tested the water here.

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