Sabbatical leave for teachers


Sabbatical leave for teachers might be of interest to you. You might want to develop new skills, conduct educational research, study for a new qualification or travel abroad.

It should be noted that there is no employment right for secondments and not all schools or Trusts will offer them. 

You will need to check the leave policy at your school or ask for further information from your headteacher or HR lead.

Essentially a sabbatical is just a word for an extended period of time away from your work. Sabbaticals can be for varying amounts of time and the majority will be unpaid for, however, it depends on the specific arrangements in your school.

In this article, we look at examples of schools which offer secondments and their eligibility criteria.

Sabbatical leave for teachers: employment law

CIPD explains that there are no specific employment law rules governing sabbaticals in the UK, although the right to request flexible working may be used by employees to seek a variety of working arrangements including sabbaticals.

We have published another support article about the topic of requesting flexible working in schools.

CIPD states a key legal issue for HR to address is what happens to the employment contract (including employee benefits and continuity of service) during the sabbatical. If the sabbatical is paid, usually the contract remains in force, which means that the employee’s continuity of service is preserved. 

During unpaid sabbatical leave the contract of employment often does not remain in force. However, the employee’s continuity of service may be preserved provided the employer and employee agree that this is the case.

As there is no specific legislation covering sabbaticals, HR has a relatively free rein to set sabbatical policy and the terms of sabbatical agreements.

Some of the wider matters to be addressed include:

  • Criteria

Are sabbaticals offered to all employees or only to employees within a certain role, or with a certain length of service? The sabbatical option will often be discretionary; employers may be in favour of sabbaticals now but may not want a binding commitment to extended periods of leave in the future

  • Staffing

Sabbaticals must be offered whilst ensuring adequate cover. Employers may need less staff now, but needs can increase, so employers may wish to be able to recall employees when the situation changes

It should be noted that sabbaticals are also not referred to in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) or the Burgundy Book.

Sabbatical leave for teachers: examples

Secondary school sabbatical leave

As a secondary example of a sabbatical leave policy for members of staff. In terms of eligibility it may explain:

  • The right to apply for sabbatical leave applies to both teaching and support staff
  • It is dependent on completing five years continuous service in the educational sector, of which the final three years should be at the school
  • Members of staff have no contractual entitlement to period of sabbatical leave

Some of the terms of sabbatical leave may include:

  • Sabbatical leave will be without pay
  • After the sabbatical leave members of staff will be guaranteed a return to work under exactly the same terms and conditions, and to the same position of employment they had prior to the sabbatical leave
  • There will be a presumption that a member of staff will return to the same incremental point at which they left, unless the experience was of distinct institutional benefit, such as to justify continued progression. This will be clarified, at the Head teacher’s discretion, at the time of application
  • Members of staff who choose not to return to their position from sabbatical leave must give the same period of notice as they already defined in their contract
  • Employer’s pension contributions will not be sustained during the period of leave, although members of staff will be able to sustain their own individual contributions through arrangements with the relevant pensions body, at their own expense

The school may judge applications for sabbatical leave against the following criteria:

  • How, if at all, will the sabbatical contribute to the member of staffs’ professional development?
  • Does the member of staff’s past commitment and contribution to the school merit a sabbatical being granted?
  • Is the school confident that it can find a satisfactory and cost effective replacement for the member of staff?
  • Will it be possible for another member of staff within the department (or a temporary member) to take on the member of staff’s workload in its entirety? If not, how great will be the disruption to other staff workloads?
  • How many teaching groups will lose teacher continuity because of the sabbatical? Will there be any other identifiable adverse effects on students?

Primary school sabbatical leave

Shoreditch Park Primary School in Hackney outlines its sabbatical arrangements in its leave entitlements and arrangements policy. It explains:

“Sabbatical leave is a provision which exists to allow staff to take unpaid time off to pursue a particular interest or study. During the period of unpaid sabbatical leave, continuity of service is maintained and the contract of employment continues to apply throughout the period.”

The process for applying for unpaid leave is as follows:

  1. The employee should discuss the request with the Headteacher, informally. This gives the employee and the Headteacher the opportunity to discuss the benefits and barriers; the timing and the implications for the employee and the service. 
  2. The employee makes a formal application for the leave. The employee makes their request in writing explaining the reasons the leave is requested, the benefits and how contact will be maintained. Normally, the request will be made at least 12 weeks before the unpaid leave will begin if agreed.
  3. The Headteacher will seek to balance the interests of the employee against the implications for the service. A range of issues are likely to be important and should be considered including:
  • The purpose of the unpaid leave  
  • The benefits to the school  
  • The period of time requested – unpaid leave will not exceed 12 months  
  • Any outstanding annual leave – sabbatical leave will not be granted until all paid leave is taken, in instances where the employee is requesting 12 months sabbatical leave
  • Previous requests for unpaid leave and whether they were granted  
  • Impact on the service  
  • Cover arrangements and costs 
  • Impact on others ie workload  
  • Attendance record  
  • If the employee is subject to one of school’s procedures ie misconduct, unpaid leave will not normally be agreed while the process is live or a warning and/or monitoring period is in force 
  1. Headteacher should aim to respond to the employee with a decision within 28 days of the formal request having been made. There is no right of appeal.

Sabbatical leave for teachers: further support

If you are an Edapt subscriber and you have questions about taking sabbatical leave or are on sabbatical leave currently you can contact us for further information and support.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.