Consultation is the key to good decision making and a well-run school. In some independent schools, consultation is done on an ad hoc basis, with key changes being made without staff involvement.

However, employees do have legal rights to be consulted under what is known as a Recognition Agreement. This is a process whereby the employer recognises the staff’s nominated union and consults with its school representatives. A Recognition Agreement puts things on a formal basis and ensures that proper consultation is undertaken.

Recognition has many advantages to both employers and employees. For example, it provides a clearly defined forum for communication and decision-making. Working together improves policies and procedures and staff involvement in decision-making helps to create shared responsibility for decisions and enhances staff morale.

Recognition can be achieved either by an amicable agreement with the employer, known as voluntary recognition, or forced through a legal procedure, known as a statutory recognition.

Voluntary recognition

Voluntary recognition is preferred by NEU and its members because we wish to persuade the school of the advantages of improved communication and negotiation structures.  For recognition to work effectively, the school needs to be comfortable with the arrangement. Indeed, of all the recognition agreements NEU has signed with independent school employers only one had to be forced through the statutory procedure.

Under a voluntary agreement, the issues to be consulted on are for agreement between the school and the staff. A statutory recognition agreement limits the issues to pay, hours of work and holidays.

NEU recommend that staff are consulted on their general terms and conditions of employment, including changes to existing or revised contracts and policies and procedures (e.g pay policy and capability, discipline and grievance procedures); physical working conditions; allocation of work or duties (demarcation); staff training and development, appraisal arrangements; workload and bureaucracy issues.

NEU can provide a model agreement which can be modified following negotiation to reflect the agreed remit and the structure and ethos of the School.

Any agreements on terms and conditions (e.g. pay scales, contracts of employment, hours of work, working conditions etc), made under a recognition agreement, are then ‘incorporated’ into individual contracts of employment. All teachers and/or support staff would be covered by the agreement whether members of NEU or not.

A voluntary recognition agreement may be terminated by either party giving notice.  Following termination, any agreements on specific terms and conditions, reached by the employer and the union, remain part of individual contracts of employment.

Voluntary recognition in practice

A Joint Consultative Group would be established where staff representatives meet with the management team.  Both sides can agree the frequency of the meetings. Many JCGs meet termly, with the facility to call special meetings if so required.

The management team would table any proposals to change terms and conditions of staff for discussion. Staff representatives would table any claims for improvement to terms and conditions. The JCG would not discuss individual disciplinary or grievance procedures.

Negotiations normally conclude with an agreement.  However, in the unlikely event of the management team and the representatives being unable to agree, then both parties would agree a way of trying to resolve any differences.  This might involve seeking further information or advice, a cooling off period to allow the representatives to take further soundings, calling in a conciliator or referring the matter to the governing body or NEU headquarters.

Minutes of each meeting would be circulated to all staff, although in exceptional circumstances, the parties might agree to keep some information confidential.

Any agreements at the JCG would normally be reached in principle subject to ratification by, say, the Governing Body and staff group.The teacher and/or support staff representatives normally agree a protocol amongst themselves as to how and when they will consult members of staff.

Representatives would receive reasonable time off to prepare for meetings and consult staff.

NEU offers training and development to teacher and/or support staff representatives.  All representatives are of course supported by the full services of the union.

Statutory recognition

Statutory recognition is a legal right for unions and its members to seek negotiating rights from an employer who has refused to grant such rights voluntarily.

A union is entitled to seek recognition for a group of workers where at least 10% of the group are members of the union. This could be teachers and/or support staff. A statutory tribunal, known as the Central Arbitration Committee, considers the application from the union and representations from the employer.

If the union has 50% of the group of workers in membership, the tribunal normally awards recognition automatically. Where it does not, or where there is uncertainty as to whether those members wish their union to be recognised, the tribunal might order a ballot of the group of workers. If a majority of the group votes in favour of the recognition and that majority constitutes at least 40% of the group then recognition is awarded.