Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Advice from the hotline...

The ASCL hotline is a completely confidential service available to answer members' questions on issues that arise in school/ college. The questions and answers below are based on real calls to the hotline. To protect confidentiality, all scenarios have been anonymised. If you need advice on a personal or professional issue, call 0116 299 1122 and ask for the hotline officer.

Forced retirement at 65?

One of our teachers is approaching the age of 65 and we intend to go through the procedure of compulsory retirement for him. We have already put the procedure into motion aiming for a retirement date of the end of the spring term. The teacher has just approached me and said that he wants to continue working beyond 65 and there is a legal challenge as to whether he can be forced to retire at this age. Is this correct?

It is correct that there is a legal challenge but this is still pending. One aspect of the age discrimination laws that were introduced in October 2006 is that, if an employer follows a set procedure, an employee can be compulsorily retired at the age of 65. Age Concern brought a case (the 'Heyday' case) against the UK government, challenging this compulsory retirement age. This case has progressed through to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and a judgment is expected this month.

However, as is normal procedure in the ECJ, the advocate-general has given an opinion saying that a 'compulsory' retirement age is not unlawful. Whilst this opinion is not binding on the ECJ judges, it is very influential and is followed in the vast majority of cases they hear.

For the time being ASCL would suggest that the school follow the retirement procedure and check the legal position in January 2009, by which time the ECJ judges will have made their decision.

Seconds away...Time limit for staff meetings?

We have one staff meeting in the week. One of the teacher union reps has just been in to say that I therefore cannot require TLR holders to attend a separate meeting, because the workforce agreement stipulates a maximum of one meeting a week for staff. Surely not?

There is no regulation that limits the number of meetings per week. However, although there is no statutory basis for their stance, the NASUWT and the other teacher unions are likely to object on the grounds that they have advised their members that schools should only have one meeting a week lasting not more than one hour.

It would be in the spirit of the agreement to try to avoid scheduling more than one meeting a week, acknowledging that there is a trade-off between meetings and classroom performance. There may be occasions, however, where it is unavoidable, and you are allowed to do this.

If the union rep persists, you may want to ask him/ her to show you in the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) or any other WAMG approved document where a limit on meetings is specified. It is not.

Discrimination claims if part-time hours reduced?

I have been told to cut staff expenditure in the science and maths faculty. We are already pretty near to the bone in terms of finances and one of the ways I am considering doing this is to cut back on the number of hours our part-time teaching staff are allocated. We have four part-time staff (all female) and ten full-time staff (male and female). However I have been told that the part-time staff may be able to claim discrimination if this change is imposed on them. Is that correct?

By significantly reducing the part-time staff hours you could be opening the college to discrimination claims. Part-time staff could say that they are being singled out for unfair treatment because of the fact that they are part-time workers. They could also argue that they are being unfairly treated because they are women, on the basis that part-time workers are more likely to be women. They would also be able to say that the change would be a breach of contract which could justify their resignation because of the drop in pay that the reduced hours would bring about (a constructive dismissal).

Foremost, there needs to be a period of reasonable consultation with all staff. Staff should be told why money needs to be saved and to what extent. This may bring to the surface other methods by which the college could cut expenditure. For example, some of the full-time staff may want to reduce their hours or they may want to volunteer for redundancy. If the savings can be achieved without force and teaching quality can still be maintained, it would be the best solution for everyone.

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