When forming a Multi-Academy trust or converting to an Academy we know it is essential that the following questions receive detailed consideration:
Visioning and Planning
- How will our vision and ethos impact on our role as an employer?
- What type of employer do we want to be? If the answer is an ‘employer of choice’ what does that mean in reality?
- What will be our approach to issues such as probationary periods, standard or non-standard contracts, pay and rewards?
- Is our current policy framework legally compliant?
- Do we have absolute confidence in safeguarding and safer recruitment processes?
- Across the MAT are people with the same job titles doing the same work for the same pay? If not, what do we need to do?
- Are current staffing structures appropriate for an academy or MAT context?
- Do we need to consider the appointment of a CEO, Finance Director, HR Manager to manage matters at Trust level?
- How will Trust wide challenges be resolved and how will important decisions be signed off?
Roles and Responsibilities
- Do current job descriptions need to be updated, reviewed or revised in light of changing accountabilities?
- How will performance management be managed in the context of a Multi-Academy Trust?
- What will governance look like in the schools across the MAT?
- Will some staff responsibilities need to change significantly and if so how do we manage this?
Reviewing Terms and Conditions
- Do we want to use amended staff terms and conditions to introduce a rewards package for outstanding performance?
- Will we need to harmonise staff terms and conditions to ensure compliance with the equalities legislation?
- Do we understand the TUPE process?
- Have we made provision to be supported by an organisation with TUPE experience?
- Are there any potential complications with the TUPE process because of our particular circumstances?
- Are our policies up-to-date and legally compliant?
- Do the policies in use in individual schools vary? If so what are the implications of this?
- Will we need additional policies to reflect academy status?
Joining a Multi-Academy Trust? Things to Consider Part 1
Our current engagement with clients tells us that the issue of conversion to academy status and forming or joining a suitable MAT is a very hot topic for many school governing bodies at the present time. We will be publishing a number of informative articles in the coming weeks on this topic.
Many of the schools we are working with at the moment are considering Multi Academy Trust status. Either single academies looking to join a local MAT or, as a group of like-minded schools moving towards collaboratively creating a MAT. However, there still seems to be some caution or misunderstanding in many groups, particularly with regard to the treatment of employment.
The key element is to think through the governance and how the Multi Academy Trust Board will set the agenda. The Trust Board is the responsible body; it is the employer of all the staff and has the accountability to the Secretary of State through the Funding Agreement. The Trust will need to consider the schedule of delegation, the policy framework and contracts and terms and conditions for staff and how these impact on the vision and the operation of the MAT.
There is often a gap between the vision for a MAT and the policies and procedure. For example, schools regularly suggest that work around engagement with families and supporting children entering below age related expectations are two of the issues where collaboration is important and the MAT will provide the resources to do this in partnership. However, a major obstacle to address is whether contracts and flexibility in staffing allow for the introduction of this?
If you are joining or creating a MAT with other schools the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) is a very important stage especially in relation to change management. This is the stage where you may start the consultation on changing the basis on which you, as the Trust, employ staff. In the past many schools have chosen to convert to an Academy and keep the same policies and contracts merely to avoid complication or extending the timeline for conversion.
If the situation is simple and the MAT will be a couple of schools both using a similar local policy framework and national terms and conditions for staff you may choose to transfer staff under the same framework. Where there are more schools or a mixed MAT with perhaps primary, secondary and possibly a VA school included then the policy framework may well be different.
As the Trust is the employer, Trustees should consider whether it may be helpful to have staff on different contracts or working under different policies even if it is only for a short period of time. It is very difficult to discharge the duties of an employer, with responsibility for managing diversity and equality, when employees are not clear what the procedures are or perceive other people are treated differently. In any event it is good practice to start detailed communication with the schools joining your MAT at a very early stage to understand the incoming schools’ ethos, culture and practices. This may involve a HR audit to understand how well the organisations are aligned.
A critical part of the transfer process is due diligence on the financial, contractual and employee data but, this should not be just about the numbers. The Trust really does need to talk to people and understand the way their new people are working. You can then decide a programme of induction and sharing practice between the schools to harmonise your procedures and processes.
Another area we find is often overlooked is job descriptions. Starting with the senior leaders, Headteacher roles in schools can often be very different from one school to another where perhaps teaching school alliances, executive roles or support to other schools as an NLE or LLE change the amount of time individuals spend on specific tasks. Where you are creating a MAT from several schools you will also find that what a school business manager does in one school is often very different to another. A group of individuals across the MAT may share a common title but the duties, line management responsibilities and pay may be very different. Such a situation raises equality issues which need to be seriously considered.
The issues are not insurmountable but as we have discovered, working with a variety of school groups, it is the Trusts that have considered them early on, used external support and planned their way through them that find the route to success easier to navigate.
Joining a MAT? Things to Consider Part 2 – TUPE
So you have made the commitment with a group of like-minded schools to form a MAT.
There are many things to think about:
- applying to the Secretary of State for an Academy Order;
- consideration of the make-up of the Trust; and
- managing the actual process of conversion.
There is a long list of things to do in a very short space of time and so the tendency is to concentrate on the critical tasks for transfer that are outlined in your project plan.
In our experience we find that schools with aggressive timescales to conversion don’t always give full attention to the change management aspects.
This is a big change to the way in which you will work and operate the school and an even bigger change in the way you will collaborate with other schools in the MAT. The way in which the relation between the schools will manifest itself is far too important to be left to evolve naturally, it needs detailed consideration and will impact on the whole strategic approach of the MAT.
We find that the initial stages of communication and consultation with staff that then lead on to Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) is an ideal time for Trustees of the MAT to start thinking of the way in which their responsibilities as the employer will be delivered and how the new ways of working can be raised and discussed with staff. Trustees should consider carefully whether contracts and terms and conditions within the MAT will deliver the vision they have for their schools and will support the important partnership of schools across the MAT.
The transfer of staff is a defined procedure that isn’t always used to manage the change appropriately. In all cases there is a statutory obligation on the current employer to inform employee representatives (i.e. the recognised union or if there isn’t one, elected representatives) of certain matters in writing. These are:
- the fact that the transfer is to take place;
- the date of the transfer and the reasons for it; and
- the legal, economic and social implications of the transfer for any affected employees and the measures (changes) which the employer envisages it will, in connection with the transfer, take in relation to any affected employees or, tell them if it envisages that no measures will be taken.
There is no longer a statutory obligation to run a full consultation unless there are proposed measures (changes) to employees’ terms and conditions. The regulations do not define the term “measures” but they are likely to include changes to existing work practices such as pay rates, job descriptions, hours of work, recognition and collective bargaining.
If you are transferring into an existing MAT you should expect some support from the MAT with the TUPE process and representatives of the MAT should be prepared to visit the school and address staff at a meeting. If you are a Local Authority (LA) school presently it is really the responsibility of the LA as transferring employer to organise the consultation with staff and unions. However, many LAs no longer have the capacity or, find it difficult to meet the timescales set by the DfE for conversion. Be careful if it falls to the MAT representatives to send out letters or invitations to the staff on behalf of the existing employer.
If the MAT you are joining has been in existence for some time their experience of TUPE may no longer be current. In January 2014, changes to Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 gave more freedoms to change things. Examples of these new freedoms include:
- enabling changes to terms and conditions of employment post transfer where there is an Economic, Technical or Operational (ETO) reason for the change and the employee agrees;
- removing automatic unfairness from dismissals (whether before or after the transfer) which occur as a result of an ETO reason entailing changes in the workforce;
- enabling changes to terms and conditions where the variation is allowed for in the employee’s contract;
- enabling changes to terms and conditions derived from collective agreements to take effect one year after the transfer, provided that, in overall terms, the amended contract is no less favourable to the employee;
- establishing a static approach to the way in which collective agreements incorporated into the contract of employment operate post transfer by providing that changes to the collective agreement are not automatically incorporated into the transferred employee’s contract unless the transferee is a party to the collective bargaining machinery; and
- allowing for the transferee to begin collective redundancy consultation under s 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 before the transfer takes place.
We would always advise getting some expert help from an HR adviser during TUPE but as a minimum your TUPE process should include the following steps.
- Confirming the intention to TUPE and identifying any measures.
- A consultation and engagement process.
- One to one meetings with the most affected staff.
- A due diligence process on employee data and on-going HR casework.
- ETO- Legislation does however allow possible variations of contracts for:
- Economic reasons – e.g. lower funding due to a falling roll;
- Technical reasons – e.g. streamlining technical processes; and
- Organisational reasons – e.g. change in curriculum requirements.
- Identifying what a measure is.
- Pension transfer for LGPS and TPS.
- Letters to staff from current / new employer to confirm TUPE change of employer.
In the next briefing note (Part 3) we’ll consider how the MAT might use this stage to start an effective process of change management.
Joining a MAT Part 3 – Managing Change
Taking the school into a MAT, either from a stand-alone Academy or as a group of schools collaborating to form a new MAT, will bring about significant changes in the way you work. The drivers for joining the MAT in the first place will largely determine the type of change that your staff experience. Is it improvement driven i.e. does your school need to change rapidly to meet DfE or OfSTED expectations or is it resources driven i.e. your school can’t find the type of support it wants locally?
The key decision makers, senior leaders and governors, need to think through what are the key changes that the transfer to a MAT will bring about. Obvious areas may be changes to policy that will affect the way staff operate. This may involve contractual issues, such as the way performance management is handled, or operational matters to do with the way that safeguarding or child protection is handled within the context of a MAT.
If there are several like-minded schools proposing to join the MAT it is easy to assume that each school will somehow absorb any changes. However, from our experience switching to centralised services within the MAT or changing the operational procedures across the schools doesn’t by itself guarantee change.
Where MATs have grown quite quickly there often isn’t sufficient centralised resource. When questions the individual schools have can’t be answered quickly or accurately, then staff will instinctively revert to doing things in the way they have always done because they feel under time pressure or the old ways are perceived as safe. The problems that then emerge are associated with inconsistent application of policy, unequal treatment of individuals and use of non-compliant procedures.
One area where primary schools particularly will find more time and effort is required is payroll. Whether you remain with a Local Authority service or move to a commercial provider the relationship between the Trust and employees has changed and the provider will not accept the risk of potentially authorising payments without a robust approval system. The EFA will also expect the Trust to have full awareness of its responsibilities in this area. This often means that the staff responsible for the payroll administration and management of the monthly approval process will need support and training to make sure the process runs smoothly across all schools.
Change is not a one off event and the staff who will need to manage things differently will need support in changing attitudes and sometimes values. Change can be threatening to some people and destabilising to others and your change plan needs to reflect this understanding. The tendency for some staff and governors is to regard the conversion or transfer to a MAT to be little more than a checklist.
Change of any description is a two way process. The way forward on changes to some policy decisions may involve feedback from staff or their representatives. One area where this is critical is on deliberations around the pay policy for the MAT or, linked to that, performance management. A lack of adequate change management in this area can be very demotivating for staff when the purpose should be just the opposite.
This is an area that often needs careful consideration. When several schools join a MAT it quickly becomes apparent that what happens in one school is not always what happens in another. Even people who hold the same job title may not have the same responsibilities. We discuss this further in our next paper but, for the time being, let us just raise the point that in order to fulfil their obligations to employees and act equally and fairly Trustees will have to consider how these differences are harmonised.
Commitment and collegiality has to be developed. If the MAT is to maximise the benefits the schools will have by being a member, then the culture of the organisation will have to be adopted in all of the constituent parts.
Joining a MAT Part 4 – The Evolution of the School Business Manager
Defining the School Business Manager role in a Multi Academy Trust (MAT)
Local Authority (LA) schools converting to academy status within a MAT will have very experienced administrators who may well be asked to step-up to the role of Academy Business Manager. Many may already have the title of School Business Manager but it would be wrong to assume that the two roles are the same and that an individual can simply transition from one to the other. True, there will be many aspects of the job that have common features but there are considerable new responsibilities that administrators need to cover post conversion.
In community schools many aspects of the administrative function may previously have been shared with a local authority service provider. For example, certain finance functions may have been undertaken by a bursar from the LA’s financial services team, contracts may have been issued centrally by the LA’s HR team and Health and Safety (H&S) inspections may have been undertaken by a LA H&S inspector with little input from school staff. We have even come across situations where the school’s Single Central Record was administered by the Local Authority.
It is our experience that the job descriptions (and the salaries) of existing School Business Managers vary considerably from one Local Authority area to another. The title School Business Manager gives no real indication of what someone does on a day to day basis or what they are paid.
Therefore, we have set out below a list of responsibilities that are most likely to be added to the role post conversion whilst acknowledging that in some cases School Business Managers may have to absorb other duties previously undertaken by the Local Authority.
- Introducing and managing a new financial system across the Trust.
- Preparing the budget.
- Reporting to the EFA.
- Monthly consolidation and reporting to Local Governing Body and Trust.
- Twice yearly meetings with auditors.
- Monitoring of budget against agreed financial targets and preparation of management accounts.
- Ensuring compliance with the Funding Agreement and the Academies Financial Handbook.
- Working closely with colleagues across the Trust to ensure continuity of approach.
- Liaison with payroll and monthly approval of payroll reports prior to payment.
- Understanding the additional and differing demands of working in a company limited by guarantee.
- Maintaining the Single Central Record.
- Undertaking identity and right to work checks and maintaining records.
- DBS and other pre-employment checks as required.
- Preparing staff contracts.
- Maintenance of staff records or managing the HR information system.
- Organising safer recruitment training for governors and staff.
- Monitoring staff absences.
- Regular review of policies and procedures on a cycle agreed by the Trust.
- Joining the Senior Leadership Team
- Managing pupil admissions and possibly the whole admissions process.
- Closer working with the Local Governing Body e.g. attendance at Finance Sub-Committee.
- Increased line management responsibilities e.g. managing the premises officer.
- Increased responsibility for the procurement of goods and services e.g. building insurance.
- Risk Management Assessments e.g. organising Health and Safety Inspections.
- Overarching responsibility to ensure Value for Money.
- Disaster planning and business continuity.
It is our experience that the additional responsibilities placed on School Business Managers are often usefully looked at in a ‘Visioning Exercise’ before any significant decisions are made. Such an exercise will need to consider harmonisation of roles within the MAT, including the role and responsibilities of the Academy Business Managers, alongside any other senior roles such as a Chief Executive Officer or Finance Director. Obviously, this will require the involvement of the existing School Business Managers in strategy meetings that follow on from the original visioning exercise.
The starting point for a successful outcome is to audit what each of the business managers currently do and match this against the new responsibilities that we have described above. Once a common job description has been determined it will then be necessary to consider if any anomalies exist in current terms and conditions across the schools.
The above assumes that within the MAT there will be a Business Manager in each academy. An equally legitimate conclusion arising out of the strategy meetings could be to appoint a Business Director to work across the MAT with administrators based in each school. Many MATs have taken this approach and often call this post Finance Director. However, our view is that this title distorts the role by placing too much emphasis on the finance function at the cost of the equally important responsibilities for HR, Health and Safety, Premises, etc.
At the end of the day each MAT will decide on its own way forward. What is important is that any decisions arrived at are driven by a strategy rather than a set of assumptions.
Joining a MAT part 5 – Senior Roles in the Trust.
This article is part of a series and follows on from “Joining a MAT part 4 – the Evolution of the School Business Manager” which looks at how the School Business Manager roles and responsibilities within a multi academy trust are affected.
Unless you are considering joining an existing Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), when schools come together to create a MAT it is essential that there is an early conversation about what senior roles are needed in order to run the Trust. There may well be several existing Headteachers or a combination of Executive Headteachers, Headteachers and Heads of School. The conversation will inevitably turn to the question of whether a Chief Executive post will be required going forward.
Our experience shows that it is often taken as a given that a Chief Executive is required. Indeed we have come across embryonic MATs where a Chief Executive post has been included in the new staffing structure even before there has been a discussion about:
- the cost implications of creating the post;
- the role and its responsibilities and accountabilities; and
- how the role will interface with the leaders of the individual schools.
The Chief Executive Officer role is a fairly recent development and probably arises from the view of a MAT as a multi-million pound business. It is very true that for larger MATs, or those with significant centralised services, a role that looks after the service contracts, procurement and operational requirements is a necessity. Whether this is through a Chief Executive Officer, a Chief Operating Officer or Finance Director is a matter of choice for the MAT and will be based on an assessment of local need at the time.
In smaller MATs it is not always a foregone conclusion that a CEO post is essential. We have come across a number of small MATs where the division of responsibility for driving:
- outstanding outcomes for children; and
- organisational efficiency
have been shared between an Executive Headteacher and a Chief Operating Officer without the necessity for an additional layer of leadership. There are also MATs where the headteachers run the individual academies to an agreed set of principles and standards and report to an executive board created by the Trust.
The simple message for those thinking of forming or enlarging a MAT is that structures that work well for two or three primary academies (or two or three secondary academies) may not be as effective in a much larger grouping of schools involving perhaps 20 schools. Likewise what will work in an exclusively primary or secondary grouping will almost certainly not work in a larger group that includes primary, secondary, Special and Alternative Provision academies.
If your strategy is to expand the MAT, a successful structure that has worked for a like-minded group of 2 – 3 successful academies may not be appropriate, or may at least require significant amendment, if your plans for expansion include bringing into the MAT 5 or 6 additional academies, some of whom may be currently in need of significant additional support.
There is also a current tendency in many newly forming MATs to identify an Executive Headteacher as the Chief Executive. In such cases the Trust will need to consider very carefully a job description and a supporting contract that identifies responsibility for specific targets or outcomes across all of the academies.
For those of you who are more familiar with a traditional Local Authority environment you may not be fully up-to-date with the concept of an Executive Headteacher. As a starting point, remember that in law there needs to be a clearly defined role that acts as the substantive Headteacher of the school. The recent emergence of the concept of an Executive Head means that this role is by no means as clearly defined and there are various different models in operation around the country. An Executive Headteacher may be:
- the substantive head of one academy with a mentoring or school improvement brief in others;
- the substantive head of two or more academies in the MAT whilst other individual academies that are making good progress have their own substantive headteacher; or
- the substantive Headteacher of all the schools in the group with a Head of School in each of the individual settings who takes operational responsibility for the site on a day to day basis.
The increase in Executive Headteachers has come about as a response to:
- difficulties recruiting headteachers in certain areas of the country or in certain sectors;
- the need to build management capacity in underperforming schools; and
- the development of distributed or system leadership models.
Where this model has been adopted the Executive Headteacher has invariably developed a more strategic approach to their role and a Head of School (or similarly titled person) has taken more of the operational or day-to-day leadership responsibility. The local context and current OfSTED assessment of the schools joining the MAT will determine what the primary focus of the Executive Headteacher’s role will be. For example, the primary focus of the role may be:
- schools that need rapid improvement;
- ensuring that the vision, ethos and values of the Trust are embedded in all the academies; or
- addressing difficulties with recruitment.
In medium sized MATs the Chief Executive Role is often combined with that of one of the Executive Headteachers. In the planning stages the Trustees should consider very carefully whether this structure is the one that will deliver their vision and the common needs of the schools. The exact roles of the senior officers in the group will depend very much on the immediate needs of your academies at the time you set up the Multi-Academy Trust but these may change over time. Questions such as:
- Is there a growth plan?
- Does the MAT expect to be welcoming more schools in the near future?
- Will the leadership structure be appropriate with more schools in the MAT?
should all be addressed.
It is also not an easy task to find someone with the breadth of skills to:
- keep a firm hand on the teaching and learning outcomes in existing academies;
- take a lead in turning around a number of underperforming schools;
- manage several conversions to academy status; and
- run a multi-million pound business with possibly several hundred staff.
In our experience many MATs have had to change their leadership structure and team very quickly after start up as they quickly realise adding more schools doesn’t just mean doing more of the same.
If the MAT has considered its direction and vision early on in the planning it doesn’t necessarily mean that changes won’t still be needed but at least they’ll be expected and planned for. A forward looking Trust will consider its vision and strategy at an early stage and regularly revisit it. Many small MATs that have been in existence for three or more years are also now revisiting the vision as circumstances have led them to review their future. Factors driving this decision include: the growth of MATs generally; the future of stand-alone academies; interesting changes in the market place for support services; and decline of services offered by Local Authorities.
We’ve talked a lot about roles and responsibilities within a multi academy trust but that leads us to consider where the job descriptions fit in the order of things. As you change and grow consider what jobs are needed. What do you need the people in those roles to do?
There is no clear framework for an Executive Head acting as a CEO and also no clear framework for salary. The Trust will want value for money and effectiveness in the senior roles so plan the job descriptions to ensure roles don’t overlap and there are clear lines of accountability. If there is duplication of roles within the MAT consider how you will deal with this at an early stage.
Carry out robust due diligence on the schools joining the MAT, not just data on employees but understanding the culture and operation of those schools and where it might be at odds with Trust policy and procedures. Every school has probably operated as a semi-autonomous unit before joining the MAT and you are now bringing some element of standardisation and harmonisation across the group. It may be a balancing act worthy of Blondin’s trip across Niagara Falls.
There are also implications for TUPE. If the Head, Executive Head or Associate Head moves into a new role in the MAT you will need to offer new job descriptions and possibly contracts (we’ll consider contracts in part 6). If there is a reduction in the number of roles as well e.g. only one Executive Head is required where we have had three in the joining schools beforehand then a recruitment exercise may be required.
There are a lot of issues around staffing and structures that many MATs only realise after the event but with careful planning and taking advice in the early stages some of these can be foreseen and overcome effectively.
Joining a MAT part 6 – Things I Wish I Had Known
Over the past few years we have worked with various school groupings on the formation and development of Multi-Academy Trusts. In many cases our relationship with the headteachers and governors has continued long after the establishment of the MAT as we have continued to supply other HR support services. Working with colleagues in a developing MAT has given us many opportunities to reflect back on the conversion process and consider lessons learned. The following comments have been taken from various conversations with headteachers, school business managers and governors about the conversion process and working in a MAT.
- How difficult it was building Trust between Principals who had been used to working independently.
- The different mind-set between being responsible for your own school and having to compromise on matters that are in the best interest of the Trust.
- The importance of gradually harmonising policies across the Trust so that as an employer we could ensure equality in the way we treated staff.
- The importance of all academies in the Trust having the same service providers to ensure consistent approaches.
- The time required to find, meet with and agree on new providers to ensure that we would get the level of service required.
- How basic the advice was from the lawyers, the costs involved and the reluctance they showed towards giving detailed guidance.
- The fact that individual academies cannot just take someone who has been a school secretary, call them the Academy Business Manager and expect them to take on Finance, HR, Premises, Procurement, etc.
- The amount of time and money it would take to bring school business managers up to speed on financial management and the resource needed for them to work with the accountants and auditors.
- The importance of purchasing good advice i.e. not relying on the goodwill of individuals, not thinking that the heads can sort it all out, and properly scoping the time and resource needed because some of the tasks are often much bigger and more complex than imagined.
- That the governing body that had worked tirelessly to take the school to outstanding would lose many of the decision making powers that it had and effectively become a sub-committee that implemented MAT policies.
- The amount of time the chair of the MAT needs to commit.
- That fact that we didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Joining a MAT part 7 – Updating and Harmonising Policies
This article is part of a series and follows on from “Joining a MAT part 6 – Things I Wish I Had Known” which takes an insightful and retrospective view of comments taken from conversations with headteachers, school business managers and governors about the conversion process and working in a Multi-Academy Trust.
In the rush to complete the conversion of a school or an academy into a Multi-Academy Trust it is easy to overlook certain aspects of integration.
One area we often get asked to look at is policies. Unfortunately, it is usually an inspection or Regional Commissioner’s review that picks up that certain statutory policies are either not fit for purpose or that governors are not aware of the procedures or their responsibilities for ensuing that the policy is applied.
A common issue is that the suite of policies available on the website has one or other of the statutory policies missing and when we dig deeper it appears that often it doesn’t even exist. Many MATs are now keen for their member academies to retain some independence. However, it is usual that any policies requiring direct Trust involvement, either through monitoring or managing part of the procedure e.g. an appeal or complaint, are harmonised across the family of schools. This makes it much easier for the directors and governors to be made aware of how a procedure works and their place in the process. Not only that, if the policy deals with staff issues such as capability or conduct the employees should be able to expect equal treatment whichever academy in the family they are working at.
Another problem is probably down to version control. As several schools join together to become a MAT, policies are collated and various versions of the same document can be created as it goes through the editing and approval process. In the worse-case scenario we have come across situations where an old version of a policy has been mistakenly rebadged as the “2016” version but refers to out of date legislation or statutory guidance that has long since been revised. On a day-to-day basis it is difficult to keep up with changes in legislation and statutory guidance and as many Local Authorities have long since lost the capacity to regularly update schools on such issues the process of review and revision isn’t always as robust as it might be. Schools converting into a MAT should be particularly aware of the risks of carrying over the old LA standard policy as it may be several years out of date.
In our work with MATs from just a handful of academies to 20 plus we do policy reviews and HR audits that highlight these issues. A frequent area of misunderstanding is that since the Equality Act 2010 schools no longer need a separate Racial Equality or Disability Policy. The Disability Act 1995 is often still cited although it was repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010 except in Northern Ireland where the act still applies. With the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 many schools introduced an all new Equality Policy but we still find a worrying number of schools that have not replaced their earlier policies with a single overarching statement.
There has also been fairly recent guidance on what should be available on school and Academy websites. While some MATs have addressed this very well some academies appear to have added the information piecemeal to the website and it isn’t always easy to see all the curriculum and performance data together or the information that is required in relation to Trustees and Governors.
Most of the actions required to bring policies and the websites up to date are easily managed but sometimes it just needs a short review exercise to highlight them. Better to have planned your review and responded appropriately rather than have it required by an external inspection.
Joining a MAT part 8 – Identifying Partner Schools
What concerns you most about joining a Multi-Academy Trust? We’re running a poll, help us determine future topics in this series by voting here.
Identifying your Partner Schools
Those of you seriously considering forming a MAT will have a fairly good idea of what you want to achieve and the vision for how it may work. However, if you haven’t had detailed conversations with other schools, there are a number of things you will want to consider, and that evidence shows, affect successful operation of the partnership.
If a representative has visited you from the Regional Schools Commissioners Office they will probably have discussed joining or forming a MAT and may well have suggested a suitable Trust or some potential partners. Remember that whatever you eventually apply to do will have to be approved by the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) and Head Teacher Board (HTB).
If you are already in a ‘family’ of schools, ‘pyramid’ or existing ‘cluster’ then these schools would seem the most obvious group to start discussions around forming or joining a MAT. Alternatively, if you are a faith school you may already be in discussions with the diocese about forming a MAT with other VA or VC schools …
We’ve published an extensive 6 page bulletin and it’s available for download below. You’ll join over 500 other education professionals who currently benefit from our key updates and insights – ensuring you’ll always be on top of education sector change.
Joining a MAT Part 9 – Using Casual Staff (non-teaching)
With groups of schools moving towards joining a MAT a set of circumstances present themselves which Trustees should be very clear about in managing their due diligence around the schools joining the MAT. One of these we deal with in this advice note is the use of casual contracts for staff. We feel there are a number of issues that the use of casual staff may present.
Schools may have fluctuating demand for staff, which cannot always be met by recruitment of full or part-time employees. Many small schools/academies we have come across, and local authorities that also employ staff in small schools, will use casual contracts. Casual contracts or, more often known these days as Zero Hours contracts, are used to engage with a pool of casual workers who are prepared to accept work at short notice and on an irregular basis. This is most often used to supplement Teaching Assistants and Mid-Day supervisors who may have to cover for absence, trips or PE sessions at short notice.
If the work is strictly casual the school must not be under any obligation to provide work, and an individual must be free to refuse any arrangement without fear of facing disciplinary action or losing future job opportunities.
An implication for schools or, schools converting into academies or MATs, is that through custom and practice or the need to cover for a long-term absence the casual work opportunity becomes more regular and this regularity may go over a period of three months. We describe below where a casual ‘worker’ becomes an ‘employee’, and the implications of employing this type of worker.
This note covers only the engagement of non-teaching casual staff. The School Teacher Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) cover casual supply teaching or agency teachers with regards to pay and benefits.
Mutuality of Obligation
Where there is a mutuality of obligation between an employer and employee the employee has certain employment rights.
Many employment rights are accrued through a period of continuous service e.g. the right to claim for unfair dismissal, the right to statutory maternity pay and the right to request flexible working. Although casual workers may be considered as having fewer employment rights, they may well be entitled to a range of employment rights which will have cost and operational implications.
If you engage a casual worker where work opportunity:
- occurs only once, and for a short period of time, or
- occurs more often but on an irregular or unpredictable basis, or
- where there is no obligation on the school to offer work, and no obligation on the individual to accept it
then the worker does not have the same employment rights as permanent workers.
If, however, this develops into an arrangement where the work is available on particular days and times of the week and both the Academy/ local authority and the casual worker develop an understanding (whether written or not) that the casual worker will be available and present themselves for work on those days and at those times, then it is likely that mutuality of obligation (see below) will be established and the relationship has changed to that of employer and employee.
Mutuality of obligation means that under a contract of employment, the school/academy must provide a reasonable amount of suitable work to the worker, who must carry out all such work provided. This means that the school/academy has an obligation to offer work, and there is an obligation on the individual to accept work offered.
As mentioned casual work includes an opportunity on the part of the worker to refuse work if it is offered. This is a distinction between the casual contract and the employed (with employment rights) individual. It is important that where work is offered by the school/academy and an individual does not accept this work, a note is made to this effect and placed in their file so that in the event that an individual challenges that there has been mutuality of obligation, then it can be disproved.
Workers (employment) rights usually start accruing after a period of 3 months continuous employment. Employers are required by law to provide all employees with a written statement of their terms of employment within two months of their starting work, and this statement must specify the date on which their employment began. If casual staff become employed staff through a mutuality of obligation it is important to note the date on which this occurred. It is also an area of due diligence that MATs should be aware of when transferring staff into the MAT.
Note that whilst you may be using a Casual Worker on a very infrequent, ad hoc basis, they may be working in a similar role for another school/academy on a more regular basis. This could then impact on their entitlements.
The full list of employment rights may not pertain to casual workers but the exact rights will depend on the status of the individual. The term casual worker is not well defined in law. However, as an employer individual academies or MATs must consider statutory rights for a casual worker. Some of the key areas for all workers are shown here.
- Protection against deductions from wages.
- Protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, part-time status, sexual orientation and religion or belief.
- National minimum wage rights.
- Working time rights including holiday pay and rest breaks.
- The right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings.
- Whistleblowing protection.
- Possibly Statutory Sick Pay, subject to conditions. and eligibility
Every worker (whether an employee or otherwise) is also entitled to 5.6 weeks (pro-rata to hours worked) paid annual holiday and accrued holiday on termination, calculated from day one of their contract. For truly casual workers on short-term engagements this will not be made until the end of the engagement at the same time as any wages.
A casual worker on a series of casual contracts may be able to build up continuity if the periods between contracts are only temporary cessations of work. If, for example the gap lasts for seven days, Sunday to Saturday, then there is no continuity and the worker will start accruing service all over again. Where working periods are short and irregular e.g. half a day here or there or a few hours at the beginning or end of a school day, with lengthy gaps between them then it is less likely that the worker will succeed in a claim for continuity of employment. This also will not include when work was offered to the worker but this was turned down. To avoid any potential claims for continuity, academies and MATs are advised to record where work is offered and turned down. Again, these situations may also arise where a school is joining a MAT and workers are concerned about losing any work however irregular.
Casual workers may often be ex-employees. Where employment has terminated but the individual was instantly re-engaged as a casual worker, even if this was in a different role or school, it is likely that continuity of employment will be maintained and, therefore, the individual will have employment rights and service related benefits already in place that will carry over to this casual work. It is also the case in a number of smaller schools that permanently employed but part-time individuals also have a casual element of employment to cover, for example, absence or trips and visits. If these individuals have a permanent contract as well their continuity of service built up through that contract will provide them with service related benefits.
Should schools/academies wish to retain an ex-employee on a casual basis, it is recommended that there is a break of at least one month from the end of a permanent contract before engaging that individual in casual work. The normal recruitment process should also be followed when engaging an individual in casual work.
Continuity of service also affects pension rights for these employees. The Local Government Pension Scheme (benefits, membership and contributions) Regulations 2007 described the ability of casual workers to join or retain membership of the LGPS.
From 1 April 2008, a person could only be an active member of the Scheme if they have a contract of employment of 3 months or more duration. Once a casual worker reaches 3 months service, they have a right to join the LGPS and will have to opt out if they do not wish to be in the scheme.
When terminating an agreement schools should forward the usual leavers form for casual staff who will not be required for further work (either because the work is complete or schools are moving to a different staffing approach and a 3 month period has elapsed since casual work was last undertaken.)
Breaks in Service
In the case of casual Examination Invigilators in secondary schools, there is a requirement set by Ofsted Guidance for Inspectors to check for a renewed DBS check if the Invigilator has not worked during the last 3 months. Therefore, schools should consider renewing the DBS check as soon as possible. This could be quite an onerous obligation on behalf of the school/academy. If a period of 3 months has not elapsed (but will have by the time the exam season starts) one way round this is for schools to consider inviting the casual worker into school to attend a short meeting to discuss this year’s examination arrangements. This should then satisfy the continuity of employment issue and there will be no need to renew the DBS.
Please note the usual information should be held for Casual Exam invigilators in accordance with Guidance for Safeguarding Children
Joining a MAT Part 10 – Procuring Services
At a time when schools are converting to academy status and Local Authorities are closing down or significantly reducing their support services many schools are turning to other providers for support with finance, IT, HR, cleaning, catering, etc. We are the first to acknowledge that this can initially appear a complicated issue following recent changes to public procurement rules, especially for smaller schools that have previously just taken the services offered by the Local Authority. There are many organisations offering support with procurement and sometimes this type of help can prove invaluable if you are going through a procurement process for the very first time.
As a company offering services to schools we are frequently asked to respond to requests for information or to participate in a full blown tender process. We find that some schools and academies that are moving away from Local Authority support for the first time often struggle with certain aspects of the process, such as defining the following.
- What they want to achieve as a set of outcomes e.g. combined financial, HR and payroll services.
- The type of service they are actually looking for e.g. consultancy and advisory services on a fixed price day rate or a full service contract with on-site support for staff for a fixed annual fee.
- What the process will be for the potential bidders e.g. pre-qualification questionnaire, written tender followed by competitive interviews.
- The service deliverables they expect e.g. a clear written statement of the type and range of service they are seeking.
- How success will be measured e.g. including an annual review in the scope of work.
We have written this advice note to suggest what would be helpful to potential suppliers to enable them to provide a service based on your current needs and aspirations. Good procurement is a two way process so the better the information you provide the more likely you are to enter into a successful relationship with your new provider.
As a first step in the procurement process you need to determine the spending threshold. This will be influenced by whether you are procuring the service as an individual school or as a group of schools, perhaps in an emerging or established MAT. Once the value of the contract has been determined, this will decide what sort of tender process you need to put in place. As an example, DfE guidance uses the following thresholds to define the type of purchase and, therefore, indicate the procurement process you need to adopt.
- Under £10,000 – low-value purchase.
- Between £10,000 and £40,000 – medium-value purchase.
- Over £40,000 – high-value purchase.
Spending thresholds are price boundaries. If you are still a Local Authority school they may be different to the levels shown above due to locally agreed guidelines and can be found in your school or local authority’s procurement rules. If you are already an Academy the thresholds above are appropriate to determine which method of procurement you use or, you may have your own guidelines linked to the schedule of delegation in your Academy or MAT guidance.
For a low or medium value purchase you can seek a range of quotes from relevant suppliers. For a high value purchase you should consider running a more formal tender process. If the service is likely to result in a lifetime contract price over the European Union public procurement threshold of £164,176 then you will have to follow EU Procurement Directives and the use of professional advice is recommended. That said, there are some “light touch” procurement guidelines for purchases that are specifically for education and you are advised to contact the DfE for guidance or seek legal advice. The threshold can be higher here, over £589,148.
Moving from a Local Authority service to a commercial provider can provide challenges for those senior leaders and governors involved in the process. These can be linked to issues such as those listed below:
Although less common now than a few years ago, some Local Authority services still benefit from internal subsidies from the council and so may look, on the surface, to be better value than a commercial provider. This makes it difficult to carry out a reasonable price comparison with a commercial organisation that is having to cover all of their costs from within the fee structure. Look for quality and value for money rather than just a straight price comparison.
Services provided from the Local Authority may have changed only slowly over the years as the service also has to meet the requirements imposed on it by local custom and practice. There may not be a current, up to date service specification or SLA that is responsive to the very different needs of a new academy or growing MAT. Think very carefully if moving away from a Local Authority service about the type and range of services you will need in the future rather than just asking for more of the same.
Seek a more Contextualised Service
Schools that are used to Local Authority services will be familiar with a tiered level of service epitomised by Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. Although many commercial services usually have a similar offer most are now used to responding to a local context and are happy to bespoke their service offer to match a client’s specific needs. Be prepared to set out your requirements in a service specification and ask potential providers to respond to that in their proposals. Ask for the service you want rather than accepting a service the provider wants to offer.
Value for Money
You may be simply carrying out an exercise to ascertain whether you are currently getting value for money (VfM) from your existing provider. If this is the case it may be appropriate to carry out a comparison of prices but it is not about this alone. It is also appropriate to consider what it is you require from the service and what you are currently receiving because not all providers will price their offer in the same way. You may get much better response times for example from a new provider who on the face of it appears more expensive. If this would save the school time and effort then the extra expense may be worth it. An example might be where a new provider is offering a software solution that following its introduction may save hours of work in the academy office each week. That could save a quarter of someone’s salary over a year freeing up time for something else. Likewise if your new provider offers a same day response then consider that against the time taken in calling and following up with your present provider.
However you seek to renew or refresh a service a clear ‘service specification’ or ‘scope of work’ for the provider to price against is critical to transparency. At this point ask yourself a critical question. Do we really need all the aspects of the service we are currently receiving?
For example, in HR tenders support for redundancy is often included in a service request, but how often does a typical school restructure? It may be much more cost effective to specify the services that you know you will need and ask the provider to quote against that. At the same time negotiate a competitive day rate to be applied when support for a consultation on issues such as restructuring, job evaluations, redundancy, etc. is needed.
Whatever your motivation for procuring a new service provider the service specification provides the basic information the supplier will need. After all you wouldn’t contact a garage and ask them to quote you for a car without offering them basic information such as: model, colour, engine size, fuel type, age, etc. Therefore, taking HR as an example, basic information might include:
- how many staff you employ (many providers price on headcount);
- when would you like the new contract to run from;
- the number of staff on more than one contract;
- whether the service will be for advisory and consultancy services only or if some transactional support is also required;
- maximum expected response time for answering enquiries; and
- if payroll services are included.
In any event, if your requirements are changing, or are likely to change in the near future, for example you are converting to become an Academy or are forming a MAT, this type of information is essential to would be providers. If you are a MAT with aspirations to eventually centralise certain services through internal appointments then a service that builds that capacity can be offered with tapering support over a period of time. However, be clear at the outset that this is your intention so that providers can structure their offer accordingly.
Guidance on the Procurement Process
The guidance is also clear on process if you decide to tender for a larger contract e.g. if several schools are coming together as a MAT then all your bidders should be treated equally. This means:
- the tender notice should go out to all potential providers at the same time;
- the scope of work required should be clear and detailed;
- the timetable for acceptance of bids and decision making should be outlined; and
- the criteria against which the bids will be judged should be described.
What services do Enlightened HR offer to MATs and Academies?
- Unlimited telephone support.
- Documentation and correspondence service.
- Days on site.
- Free HR audit for all new clients.
An essential HR information and CPD portal for school administrators stepping up to academy business management.
Additional HR Services
- Management of complex casework.
- Grievance and misconduct investigations
- Employment Law advice.
- DBS and pre-employment checks.
- Senior Leadership recruitment planning.
- Interim Management
Enlightened HR Guarantee
- Unlimited advice
- Fast response from our highly qualified staff
- We empower staff and do not create dependancy
- We offer strategic and preventative advice – an end to firefighting
- Excellent value for money with day rates up to 20% less than many of our competitors
At Enlightened HR we recognise that people are a school’s most important asset and staff management is at the heart of any school improvement initiative.