This issue of balancing childcare requirements with a teacher’s responsibilities seems to crop up more and more these days in schools, colleges and academies across the country. The recent case of Bradley v London School of English & Foreign Languages has highlighted the questions of what policies should be in place? Can these be challenged in court? And should schools be adapting their policies to suit the individual needs of staff?
What’s happened in this case?
The case concerned a freelance teacher who had sole responsibility for the care of her daughter which included the need to balance taking her daughter to school whilst trying to comply with the practice of another school at which she worked i.e. to arrive at 8:45am ready to teach at 9am.
She was continuously late for work arriving just after 9am. Early in 2015, the school made it clear that her lateness was unacceptable and damaging the school’s professional reputation.
The teacher claimed that half of her students had indicated they would agree a later start time. However, the school insisted that there were still a number who could not. Indeed, in July 2015, a formal complaint was received from a student.
In January 2016, the teacher changed her daughter’s school and arranged childcare to enable her to arrive at the school she worked at by 9am. However, in early 2016, there was a reduction in students at the school where she worked and the offer of work for the freelance teacher dried up. The teacher complained to the school and in July 2016 the teacher was offered a week’s 1:1 work. On the first day, the teacher had not arrived by 8:45am nor had she telephoned to explain why. She arrived sometime between 8:52am – 8:55am. The manager’s annoyance was made clear to the teacher in front of colleagues. The teacher left school immediately and did not return to teach that day.
The teacher made a claim for indirect sex discrimination citing the practice of requiring all staff to arrive early at 8:45am for a 9am class placed woman at a particular disadvantage compared to men as significantly more women than men are primarily responsible for childcare.
The tribunal decided that there was a PCP (Provision, Criterion or Practice) with a legitimate aim, i.e. the prompt start of teaching to students at 9am and that this was applied equally to all staff irrespective of gender.
However, the employer had failed to demonstrate that their method of achieving the legitimate aim was proportionate. i.e. could the school justify the need for a hard and fast rule which on the face of it had a greater impact on women?
Mrs Bradley has successfully appealed the case and it has now been sent back to the tribunal to reconsider whether the school could demonstrate they had taken a proportionate approach to achieving a legitimate aim.
What can schools learn about balancing a teacher’s responsibility and childcare requirements from this case?
The outcome may not differ a second time around however, this case demonstrates not only the need for a professional approach at all times but how a clear and legitimate policy that is applied equally to all can still be open to challenge.
This does not mean that such policies cannot be applied and defended but careful consideration should be given and advice sought before a decision is made where such challenges arise. It also emphasises the importance of documenting the justification for any such policy decision.