Flexible working

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

What is flexible working?

All employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment service are entitled to make one statutory flexible working request 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. The statutory right has limitations and the NEU recommends that members seek flexible working arrangements informally before relying on the statutory procedure.

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

Before you start

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 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: 

How do I make an individual informal request 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 one statutory request a year.

You should 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, then you should consider a statutory application.

How can I strengthen my 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.

In its reports on individual schools, Ofsted has commented favourably on the benefits of job share arrangements.

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 line manager and seek their support for your application.

Can I make a statutory request for flexible working?

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) and at least 26 weeks of continuous service with your current employer
  • not have made another statutory request for flexible working within the last 12 months.

How do I make a statutory request?

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:

  • 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
  • what effect, if any, you think the change would have on the employer and how you think that might be dealt with.

Can I change my mind and withdraw my application?

If you plan to withdraw your statutory application, you should tell your employer in writing as soon as possible. If you withdraw, you will not be able to make another statutory application for 12 months.

What will happen once I have made my application?

Your employer has a duty to consider your request. All statutory requests, including any appeals, must be considered and decided on within three months from the date the employer receives the application, unless you and your employer agree to extend this time limit.

There is no need to hold a meeting if your employer intends to approve your request but in most cases your employer will arrange a meeting to discuss your request with you.

Can my NEU representative accompany me?

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.

What happens if my request is agreed?

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’.

What happens if my request is refused?

Your employer should inform you as soon as possible if your request has been refused. Your employer can only legally reject your application for certain reasons outlined below.

How do I appeal against my employer’s decision?

There is no statutory right to an appeal hearing but the ACAS code recommends that employers should speak with applicants about the refusal.

If your employer has followed the statutory procedure and given genuine clear business reasons, with evidence, for refusing your request, it is unlikely that you will be able to take the matter further.

What if flexible working requests are routinely refused?

Discuss your concerns with your workplace rep. If your employer is routinely refusing flexible working requests, you may be advised to tackle the issue collectively. The NEU can advise on what steps to take.

What should I do next?

For further advice, contact your NEU rep in the first instance or the NEU AdviceLine on 0345 811 8111. Further contact details are on our contact us page.

Further advice on flexible working and related issues:

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