Flexible working

Flexible working is not only beneficial for workers and employers, but also for pupils, quality of care and education.

The statutory right to request flexible working has limitations; the NEU recommends that members seek flexible working arrangements informally before relying on the statutory procedure. Under the statutory procedure, all employees are entitled to make two statutory flexible working requests per year. 

Your employer has a duty to consider requests for flexible working in a reasonable manner in accordance with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) code of practice on work flexibly.

This guidance is primarily for education workers who are already in employment.

Model policies and procedures

Ask your workplace rep or school or college office for copies of relevant policies and procedures, e.g. flexible working, job share, home working policies. The statutory entitlements offer the minimum flexible working rights; many employers offer flexible working arrangements that are more generous.

Consider your own needs, including the sort of flexibility you need. Think about how your request could be accommodated and how it might impact on the team or department in which you work. Talk to your rep and to colleagues who are working flexibly for tips on how they secured the arrangement and how they have made it work.

If you don’t have an immediate need to work flexibly, you could consider working collectively with colleagues to secure flexible working arrangements across the workplace or within a department that meet the needs of all staff and students.

Explore the NEU model policy on flexible working; you could discuss with your rep how to get your school to adopt the NEU model to support other members seeking flexible working: 

Individual informal requests for flexible working

It is advisable to make an informal request before making a statutory request - there is no limit to the number of informal requests you make but you can only make two statutory requests a year.

You should speak to your rep and approach your line manager, head teacher or principal informally to find out if they would be agreeable to a change in your working arrangements. Even if your specific request is not agreed, you may still be able to agree a compromise. If you do get an agreement, you should ensure that you receive written confirmation of what has been agreed and whether this is on a permanent or temporary basis.

If you cannot come to an agreement using this informal route, speak to your rep and consider a statutory application or other options.

Strengthening your request

You can strengthen your request by considering in detail how the arrangement you are seeking will help you, your class or department and your students to flourish. The statutory scheme does not require that you set out the impact on your work in your flexible working request, but we recommend that you do this as it will encourage your employer to consider all aspects of your request.

You should set out the positive benefits to the school and address concerns that your employer may have. You could discuss your proposal with your rep and your line manager and seek support for your application.

Making a statutory request

To qualify for the statutory right to make a request under the flexible working regulations you must:

  • have a contract of employment (agency workers are excluded) with your current employer
  • have made fewer than two statutory requests for flexible working within the last 12 months.

A statutory request must be made in writing to your employer.

The NEU has produced a template letter for lodging a statutory request. To qualify as a statutory request, the application must be dated and include the following information:

The NEU has produced a template letter for lodging a statutory request. To qualify as a statutory request, the application must be dated and include the following information:

  • a statement that you are exercising your statutory right to request flexible working
  • details of the change you are applying for
  • the specific date you wish the change to take place

Your employer must handle your request reasonably. This should include carefully assessing the effect of the requested change for both the employer and you, such as the potential benefits or other impacts of accepting or rejecting it. 

Employers must agree to a flexible working request unless there is a genuine business reason not to. For details, see below - What happens if my request is refused?

All statutory requests, including any appeals, must be considered and the decision confirmed in writing without unreasonable delay or at the most within two months from the date the employer receives the application, unless you and your employer agree to extend this time limit.

Your employer must not reject your request without first consulting you. There is no need to hold a meeting if your employer intends to approve your request in full, but, in most cases, your employer will arrange a meeting to discuss your request with you. 

The ACAS code says that if your employer does arrange a meeting, you should be allowed to be accompanied by a work colleague who may or may not be a union rep. ACAS advice is that your employer should inform you before the meeting that you may request a companion. If you make a reasonable request to be accompanied at any meeting to discuss your flexible working request, your employer should allow you to be accompanied. 

If you plan to withdraw your statutory application, you should tell your employer in writing as soon as possible. Remember that you can only make two statutory applications in 12 months.

Your employer should inform you as soon as possible if your request has been agreed in full or agreed with modifications. They should discuss with you how and when the changes might best be implemented. You are not obliged to agree to any changes to your working arrangements if you do not agree with any suggested modifications that the employer makes. If you agree to the changes, you should be given a written ‘variation of contract’.

Your employer should inform you as soon as possible if your request has been refused. Your employer must agree to a flexible working request unless there is a genuine business reason not to. A decision to reject a request must be for one or more of the following business reasons which are set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work available for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural changes to the employer's business

The NEU model flexible working policy includes a right of appeal.

The ACAS code of practice states that the employer’s written decision should make it clear that the employee has the option to appeal the decision. This includes explaining how to appeal if the employee wishes to do so, and the timeframe for submitting any appeal.

Speak to your rep or contact AdviceLine if your application has been refused. In some cases, refusing a request for flexible working could be discriminatory, for example, refusing to allow a woman to return to work part-time from maternity leave could be indirect sex discrimination. 

Discuss your concerns with your workplace rep. If your employer is routinely refusing flexible working requests, the most effective route would be for your NEU group to tackle the issue collectively. Your rep, local NEU branch, or NEU AdviceLine can advise on what steps to take.

Further advice on flexible working and related issues

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