Holidays – How Clear Are Your School’s Rules about Absence for Holidays?

During the last few weeks of term, there is the risk that parents may be tempted to take a family holiday because it is affordable compared to the peak Summer holidays period.  Although the Supreme Court has ruled on this, Head Teachers and Governors need to understand the reasoning of the Court and check that their school’s policy is clear.

Uncertainty Created by the Decisions of Lower Courts

When deciding whether a school/local authority had the right to  seek a fine on ra parent for taking their child out of school in term time, the Supreme Court noted, that using the test of ‘sufficiently frequently’ was too uncertain for parents to know whether they were in the right or wrong.  Instead, the Court held that the key was whether the parents had complied with the school policy.

Review the Clarity of Your School’s Absence/Holiday Policy

In the light of the above, you should check that your policy is clear and will be interpreted by parents that absence for holidays duing term time is a breach of the school’s rules and expectations of parents regarding the child’s or student’s attendance.

A reminder each year in January to parents/guaridans may be advisable as that is often when parents start to think about their main holiday.

Some schools may be in communities in which there are a high number of, for example, parents who are hospital doctors.  They are often obliged to take their holidays at the end of their contract and before their next role.  In such cases, the Head and Governors may wish to have some flexibility regarding holidays but that will need careful thought. 

The Court’s Core Reasoning re Attendance at School

The Supreme Court noted that education statutes had regard to the importance of a child’s regular attendance for the sake of his/her education.   A fine and possibly a conviction could arise but a conviction can be avoided if the penalty is paid on time. That may have influenced the decision of the Court to take this firm stance.  

The Balancing Skills of the Head Teacher and Governors

As noted above, the Head Teacher should ensure that:

  • the school’s policy is clear on the issue of taking holidays in school term times;
  • the consistency of any exceptions permitted.

In addition, the school will need to consider its policy on:

  • issuing penalty notices for breaches of its rules/policy.  Currently, the law permits a penalty notice of £60 to be issued.  If that is not paid within 21 days, the penalty increases to £120;
  • requesting prosecution of a parent who breaches the school rules/policy.

The reality is that some parents will feel that the benefit of a family holiday in term time with the cost of a fine is worthwhile compared to the cost of a holiday in the Summer holidays.

Are There Other Solutions?

i)  Should local authorities and academies etc. be given greater freedom to set staggered holiday times across the country to encourage holiday firms to lower their prices?

ii)  In June and July, many schools arrange school trips/holidays for educational purposes.  Should those periods be approved instead as flexiible school holiday weeks in which families can take a holiday  Schools could help to ensure that such holidays with parents are educational by providing ideas to help children/students observe and discover during their holiday experiences – that does not necessarily mean having to visit expensive ‘tourist attractions’.

iii)  Should tourist boards become more pro-active in advertising affordable holiday packages, during school holidays, as it is alleged that guest houses etc. struggle due to the competitive holiday market.

The above will raise logistical issues for schools but those could be reduced if relaxations were made on a county wide basis.  On the other hand, perhaps the taking of holidays in  term time is not a big issue for schools. Do you have a view on this issue – if so leave a polite comment below.

Sources:

Isle of Wight Council v Platt [2017] UKSC 28

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Are Your People Management Practices Effective?

HR Management Tends to be Cautious

HR management policies and practices tend to err on the cautious side when, in reality, managing individuals means taking reasonable risks when, for example, making:

  • selection decisions; The cracks are easy to see as the plant pushes up but less so not so when dealing with indviduals
  • personal development involving the delegation of more responsibility;
  • capability and discipinary decisions.

In the photo, you can see that the growing plant is causing cracks in the asphalt. However, spotting the cracks and decay in personnel management practices is not so easy but it is an issue in many organisations including schools.

Do Your HR Management Practices Reinforce Your Key Goals and Values?

They should but senior managers usually have doubts about whether they are focused appropriately.  Before becoming immersed in another round of hr policy reviews, as the Head Teacher or a School Governor on the Personnel Committee take time to assess whether your hr management practices are effective.

To find out how and to obtain a free assessment tool view this page, ‘Hallmarks of Effective HR Management’ on our main HR Management Dimensions website.

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Pressure on the School v Pressure on the Teacher

Quote

Editor’s Note – Further content added 08/04/2017

There is no doubt that many teachers feel under pressure due to the hours spent on planning, marking, meetings at school, assessments and reviews.  As a consequence, teachers have to carry out work tasks in their ‘leisure time’. For some that leads to long working hours and a detrimental effect on performance.

Are the Head and/or Governors the Cause of Undue Pressure?

Photo of people feeling pressure

Head Teachers are not immune from similar pressures but are some Heads the source of the pressure on their teachers?  “What!” I hear being yelled at the screen as you read that.  Stop for a moment and consider – how many new policies or ideas have you or the School Governors initiated, which were not the result of a Government policy, but perhaps the result of a visit to another school or an idea from a conference?  Continous improvement is an aim that many organisations pursue.  That is not the same as continuous organisational change which some adopt as their organisation’s mantra – such change unless overtly beneficial leads to a weary, less responsive organisation.

There are different views for the increased pressure and numbers leaving the profession.  An example of such is given in the sources section (reference 3) at the end of this article.  The alternative view given in this article, which you are readiing, is based on the author’s work with school heads and governors and his own observations of situations.  The need to deal with the issues is not going to disappear in the short term and will require different approaches and active participation by the Governing Body of a school.

The incidence of head teachers being off sick for a lengthy period or even not returning due to a mix of illness and faltering leadershp seems to be more prevalent in the last few years.  We know that individuals react differently to pressure.  Some seem to thrive on it and others wilt. The danger arises when the pressure turns to stress and the individual becomes broken in spirit and/or health.

Headless Organisation

When the head becomes ill and/or stressed, the school may have a capable Deputy and SLT to step up to leadng the school.  However, that is not always so and the Deputy acts up but leadeship decisions become questionable due to the personal pressure perceived by him/her to prove themselves.  If the Governors are not actively supportive, the Deputy will begin to pass on the pressure to the staff.  A downward spiral develops.

The Governors need to intervene in several ways:

  • Secure an ex head or existing head to coach the Deputy in leading the school and use this time to develop the SLT as well;
  • Raise the self awareness of the Deputy and SLT so that they can address pressure points amongst themselves and receive appropriate support and coaching;
  • Review key priorities with the Deputy/SLT to avoid unneccessary changes that will lead to undue pressure;
  • If the Head is still in post, help the Head to realise that change for change’s sake or just to be seen to be ‘progressive’ is not necessarily in the best interests of the organisation and may be counterproductive;
  • The Governors need to accept their duty to ensure that working hours are reasonable.and the staff remain positive.

Governors’ Duty to Minimise Unreasonable Working Hours

In many organisations, professionals and managers have to work longer hours at critical periods.  The Teachers’ Terms and Conditions set out the working hours requirements but the Governing Body should be reviewing the hours regularly and seek to ensure that instances of long hours are examined and help given by a member of the SLT or a teacher colleague to the individual(s) to change the way they work and help the individual to be effectivel.  (See this earlier article for more details) [2]

When Individual Capability is a Key Factor

Working long hour may be a symptom or the cause of declining effectiveness.  The capability process can help to win an nidividual back in some instances.  However, many Governing Bodies have approved processes that are long winded.  In practice, such procedures fail frequently to provide a core supportive and balanced approach.

Heads and Governors need to be mindlful that because capability is often a drawn out process, patience can be lost and termination becomes the objective.  In some cases, that is appropriate.  If ill-heath is a contributory factor, a balanced approach is required if an unfair dismissal is not to result. This is an aspect of which Governors need to be aware.  When health has been affected by stress or similar illnesses, the doctors and therapists may not be able to provide an assessment on when an individual should be fit to return to work until after the treatment or sessions have been completed.

Balancing Act by the Governors as Employer

Such treatment may take, say 3 months more, and the Governors should balance whether waiting a further three months would be more damaging to the school (e.g. the pupils/students, teaching colleagues, costs etc.).

The Court of Appeal [1] has stated the importance of the balancing exercise.   The school had failed to provide any persuasive evidence of the further damage that would occur if the Governors waited for another three months before deciding whether or not to dismiss.

[Author’s note – tThis case was a majority decision.  The facts of a particular case will influence the outcome.  As the Court of Appeal noted this has been a hallmark for many years in ill-health cases per the case of Spencer v Paragon Wallpapers Ltd [1977]

“Every case depends on its own circumstances. The basic question which has to be determined in every case is whether, in all the circumstances, the employer can be expected to wait any longer and, if so, how much longer? Every case will be different, depending upon the circumstances.”}

As this is a decision by the Court of Appeal, it carries weight so Governing Bodies need to ensure that their internal hearings do carry out that balancing exercise and note the harm/damage either way if a decision on dismissal is not to be deferred in an ill-health type case.

Summary

Both the Head and Governors have an obligation to keep working hours under review and the Governors need to check that practical action is being taken to address instances of excessive hours and/or illness with performance/capability issues.

Further Action

Do you believe that a school has the opportunity to reduce the pressure on its teachers?  If so please leave a comment on this article as you can then help to draw more attention to the reality of such pressure and the need for action locally by the school.  

Sources:

[1]  O’Brien v Bolton St Catherine’s Academy [2017] EWCA Civ 145
[2]  Earlier blog article – Teachers’ Working Hours – Duties of Governors and Head Teacher
[3]  Recruitment, Budgets and Accountability by Ros McMullen, published March 31, 2017 by Headteachers’ Roundtable.

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Shortage of People not just Skills Ahead

All employers are likely to be affected by the change in the UK’s workforce profile which will lead to a large gap in the numbers of available employees because:

  • By 2022, 14.5 million more jobs will be created, but only 7 million younger workers will enter the workforce – a gap of 7.5 million.
  • By 2020, the over 50s will comprise almost one third of the working age population and almost half of the adult population.

Employers will have to adjust their attitudes and no longer maintain a bias against older workers.  More important, is how employers will nurture the advantages of a higher proportion of older individuals in their employment and use their experience and skills to the benefit of the organisation and the development of young workers.

Dispelling the Myths about the Unreliability of Older Workers

Lower sickness rates are not often associated with older individuals but that is the evidence from insurers and other sources.  Older workers also bring a maturer outlook and set of skills to the organisation.

There are also significant advantages to employing more older individuals as they are part of the corporate glue that leads to more effective engagement with employees and managers.

You can read more about the advantages and sources of help to enable employers to prepare for the changes ahead in our blog article, ‘ Older Employees – Organisational Asset or Liability?’

Would you like to discuss the above issues in the context of your organisation
on recruiting and managing older workers,if so contact, the author by writing to him or calling him on 07808 765588.

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Distracting but Necessary Issues to Address Shortly

In common with many organisations, Head Teachers and Governors have to grapple with peripheral issues that do not further the educational aims of the school but have to be dealt with as they are statutory requirements and could lead to adverse publicity for the school.

Peripheral Issues Arising

The following matters will need to be considered in the coming months as the implementation date for some issues is April 2017.

  1. Gender Pay Reporting **
  2. Data protection  – new European standard and regulations
  3. Employment of apprentices and the Apprenticeship Levy **
  4. Changes to Immigration rules and increased costs for employers
  5. Increases in the National Minimum Wage rates
  6. Mental health issues at work
  7. School policies that have been overtaken by recent cases and regulations.

The items with ** will apply to organisations with 250 or more staff but do not heave a sigh or relief just yet.   Because many schools are now within a larger employer such as a Multi-Academy Trust, the reporting needs will affect you although your employer will have to carry out the compliance work.

Tips About Complying and Gaining Extra Value

To help head teachers and school governors, I shall be publishing during the next two months:

  • Articles and tips on the above;
  • References to previous articles that provide insight into the pitfalls in some issues;
  • Simple checks you can make to ensure that you have not breached the requirements inadvertently.

Receive Notification of New Articles and Tips

To ensure you do not miss the articles, you can be notified when they are published.  Just click on the link for ‘receive notifications’ in the left hand column of this page.

© 2017 HR Management Dimensions

The Headsup HR blog is published by HR Management Dimensions Ltd.under the editorial lead of Jim Harrington.

Improvements to the Security of this Blog and our Web Sites

We have improved the security of messages and data that you send to us or that we send to you. Such information will be encrypted which makes it more secure.

You may also see that our blogs and websites now have a https prefix to their website address which is a visible means of showing that they have a security certificate in operation.

Please note that you should use the following links to the sites below:

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We trust that this will also give you peace of mind when visiting our sites and communicating with us.

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Employment Rights – A Quick Reference Source

The range of employment rights is wide and it is easy to lose track of the current rates/allowances such as statutory leave, minimum rates of pay.    You may only need to look those up occasionally and ideally would like to be able to go to one source to save time.

Key HR Facts

Well now you can by going to Key HR Facts.   These are a free source of reference which  you can find by using the following link – http://bit.ly/2ieG5ew.

You are also welcome to share the Key HR Facts pages with colleagues provided the copyright and source are displayed on each page or extract shared by whatever means.

Key HR Facts are produced by HR Management Dimensions Ltd.

If you feel it would be useful to include other facts in those quick reference pages, please let us know.

Understand the Facts in Context

Looking up the facts is useful but it is also important to understand them in the context in which you will use them.  For example, being able to look up the latest minimum rates of pay is helpful but what are the common pitfalls into which managers fall?  As an example read our blog article about such pitfalls.

You may find it useful to read articles on our blogs – links to which are provided at the end of this article.

We also welcome the occasional call if you would like to discuss an issue – without a charge – if it can be answered in a few minutes.   Our contact details are on this page.

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How Valid is an Inspection by OFSTED?

Head Teachers are sometimes surprised by the cursory observations and way in which an inspection is conducted.  One may accept that professionals in all disciplines, including OFSTED inspectors, may have an occasional  ‘off day’ but the outcome of a flawed inspection is likely to have a serious impact on the reputation of both the school and the staff.

While the inspection process allows for comments on the inspection to be fed back, that may not be sufficient to overcome the loss of confidence in the process and the resulting damage.

Earlier in 2016, the Courts demonstrated that they will not allow OFSTED or other government related bodies to exceed or abuse their powers.   Although the case involved early years provision by a nursery school and the safety of children, the case is of interest because it sets out some key principles and comments on the inspection process and the duty of an inspector.

The Evaluation Process During an OFSTED Inspection

Some of the Judge’s comments are given below regarding the process.  At the core of the case was a grievance that an OFSTED Inspector had exceeded her powers by investigating a complaint made by a member of the public about the safety of a child – a child had been pushed accidentally into a road while children were being escorted between the nursery and the primary school.

“… the evaluation must be evidence-based, with “the main evidence” coming from the inspector’s direct observations and interviews with the relevant staff.”

“…I consider this aspect of the defendant’s guidance (i.e. OFSTED – editor) to be of fundamental importance. Inspections of schools (and the subsequent reports) are a vital tool in the defendant’s armoury so as to ensure that all schools strive to and maintain a proper standard. But it is of critical importance to ensure that such inspections are not random, one-off events in which absolutely everything turns on what happens on the day of the inspection. Instead, inspections must be carried out on a consistent basis, ensuring that each one is part of a continuum, building towards improvement or the maintaining of excellence.”

“…A system of inspection which ignores previous inspections runs the risk of turning the whole process into a lottery. It would give the individual inspector on the particular day of the inspection an arbitrary power and influence. It would prevent systematic monitoring and consistency of approach. It is most definitely not to be encouraged.”

Those are piercing words about the inspection process as may be expected when the Courts have to intervene to determine the respective legal rights of the parties but even more so when the facts are examined.  The Inspector decided to investigate a complaint but did not have a duty to nor the legal authority to do so in this instance.  It seemed that OFSTED received a complaint about the incident involving the child which, within a week or so, resulted in an inspection and also led the Inspector to take a critical view of the organisation’s performance as the incident overshadowed the objectivity of the inspection.  The Judge examining the evidence did not find that approach justifiable and felt that there was an element of ex post facto justification on issues such as the number of adults escorting the children.  In particular, the Judge noted there was no balance as the Inspector, in her report, did not refer to the previous history of the provision nor the  achievements to date nor a previous, fairly recent OFSTED report.

Remedy for a Flawed Inspection

The publication of the OFSTED report was deemed to be unlawful as was the investigation of the complaint by an Inspector. The question arose as to whether the school was entitled to damages regarding its reputation.  The answer in this case was that reputational damages did not arise because:

  • “Section 151 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that reports of this kind are privileged unless malice is present”;
  • No malice was present in the publication of the report;
  • No damage to the school’s reputation had arisen in practice.

Starting a court case to secure a reasonable outcome is an expensive process but in some instances may be necessary if an inspection report is flawed significantly on the evidence especially if the inspection feed back and complaint process is not taken seriously as warranted by the facts.

Unfortunately, it is not just OFSTED that have occasional flawed inspections and outcome summaries of a school.  Local Authorities can also at times create issues for the Head Teacher and Governing Bodies.

Local Authority Stances Towards Schools

For much of the time, Local Authorities are supportive of their schools but in recent times both financial pressures and performance vetting has led some authorities to become embroiled in disputes and/or interference with the leadership of a school.   The reasons are not always clear for this but seem to be driven by the LA wishing to force the school to accept a course of action that would be detrimental to the school’s future provision and attainments.  This also seems to be influenced by the LA losing ground in its attempts to retain schools under the LA banner.

Such disputes are damaging to the trust between the school’s governing body, senior leadership team and the LA and are also draining as energy and focus is sapped away from raising students’/pupils’ achievements.

As such times, the Governing Body and Head Teacher can find it helpful to seek independent advice not tainted by the politics of the LA.  Such advice can help Governors and the Head to explore options to move forward with or without the support of the LA.

If you believe as a Head Teacher or as a senior School Governor that such as confidential discussion would be helpful to take on objective view of the ways forward,
contact Jim Harrington for an exploratory discussion.
His contact details can be seen in the footer of this post.

© 2016 HR Management Dimensions

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Sports Direct – the Dilemma of Organisational Flexibility

To meet service needs many organisations, including schools, need to be able to use variable hours arrangements such as zero hours and other types of contracts. They need to be used responsibly. As important, is selecting the type of contractual options that will provide the appropriate flexibility for your context.

A new article on our sister blog ‘HR Management Dimensions’ suggests options and safeguards and is worth sharing with any colleagues who are having to deal with such issues.

The article can be seen by clicking this link Sports Direct – The Dilemma of Organisational Flexibility.

If you would like to discuss and review your options for more flexible staffing, please contact the author, Jim Harrington, via this link  or via the contact details on the footer of this blog page

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