Independent school law: what you need to know in 2016

Keeping up with regulation: 10 things we learned at Veale Wasbrough Vizards' Annual Independent Schools Update

1. Changes to government statutory guidance

In July 2015, information about Prevent, FGM and children missing education was added to the ‘Keeping children safe in education’ guidance published by the DfE. Currently the guidance is mandatory reading for all staff. The government is currently consulting on plans to require that all staff must ‘understand’ as well as read the document – this is likely to go beyond simple read receipts or signed declarations. The consultation is aiming for implementation in September 2016. You can read more about safeguarding governance from Veale Wasbrough Vizards (VWV) here. 

2. The Goddard Inquiry is investigating residential schools

In the interests of ‘going paperless’ and for security reasons, many schools may not keep documents of a certain age. However, as the Goddard Inquiry moves its investigations into residential schools, staff must be prepared to assist with queries and supply documents where necessary. Children in boarding schools are naturally more vulnerable and dependent, Goddard is encouraging schools to self-report (no matter the impact on PR, insurance or association membership). VWV recommends forming a team to manage a strategy for the Goddard Inquiry and keeping up to date with its developments.

3. Know your (copy)rights

If you make changes to your school’s website or literature, are you breaching the contract with your supplier? Contracts between schools and suppliers should make clear where intellectual property lies – in the case of marketing materials, ideally schools should own the rights to amend content and source code. 

4. Deletion from roll? Report it 

Schools must inform the relevant local authority if a pupil’s name is to be deleted from the roll in specified situations including when the school doesn’t know for sure where the child is moving to. Failure to do so would be non-compliant with the ISSR paragraph 7. VWV recommends having a mechanism for reporting to the local authority, which should be carried out by the school’s designated safeguarding officer.

5. Have your say on staff accommodation

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is conducting a review of employer-provided living accommodation, with the call for evidence open until 3 February 2016.

The consultation document, published in December 2015, says approximately 220,000 employees currently reside in accommodation provided by their employer, across various sectors .

Employer provided accommodation is a benefit in kind and therefore liable for tax and employer National Insurance contributions, the rules around which have been in place for over 40 years. HMRC is aiming to understand how relevant and appropriate these rules are for employment arrangements today, as part of the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS)’s project to simplify the overall UK tax system.

Schools with staff accommodation can take part in the consultation and help to shape future policy by  giving details on the type of accommodation provided and why, as well as  details of job roles in  schools that still require accommodation to enable those roles to be performed. 

6. Changes to zero hours contracts

Zero hours contracts are defined as a contract where there is no guarantee that work is available. An estimated 2.4% of workers in the UK are on zero hours contracts, and in schools these could include exam invigilators, peripatetic music staff or specialist coaches. A ban on exclusivity clauses, which came into effect in May 2015 and was updated on 11 January 2016, details the right for zero-hour staff to be free to work for other organisations and not to be dismissed or subjected to any detriment, if they do so.

7. Shared parental leave will be extended to grandparents

Shared Parental Leave came into effect last April, although the maternity leave system continues to operate. Parents can now share up to 50 weeks of leave, enabling families to decide who will look after the child and when. This leave is to be extended to grandparents from 2018, allowing older relatives to be involved in the child’s life and support working parents further. 

8. Early years childcare provision has changed

The Childcare Bill 2015-16 proposes an increase of free early years childcare from 15 to 30 hours per week, to be implemented from September 2016 to September 2017. This presents an opportunity for schools to carry out a strategic review of its early years provision, as funding may not cover the costs of delivering the extended hours of free care. Schools should consider the business reasons for operating the nursery, such as attracting and retaining a wider range of children for and assess if these are actually being fulfilled in practice.

9. Use ACAS for early conciliation of grievances

There has been a dramatic decrease in Employment Tribunal claims since 2014, presumably due to the introduction of tribunal fees in 2013. Mandatory conciliation through ACAS came into force in May 2014, offering employees a chance to review their case for potential compensation and, in some cases, drop the claim if it is too costly to pursue.

10. The government’s Fit For Work (FFW) scheme can cut your sick pay costs

Fit For Work (FFW) is a government funded scheme to provide an occupational health assessment when an employee is expected to reach four weeks’ sickness absence. An employee can be referred by their employer or GP, but only with their consent.   The scheme may be a useful tool for schools to help reduce their sick pay costs by either creating a return to work plan or using FFW’s job-matching service if the employee will be unable to return.

VWV’s specialist lawyers provide the latest legislative updates throughout the year. Find out more about trends and events for the independent sector on the website.