How to minimise the risk of redundancies

Reached a point where making staff redundant seems to be the only way of balancing the budget? Read Nickii Messer's 10 step guide to reducing redundancy risk before making any decisions

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Nickii Messer was a school business leader for 16 years across three school phases, including senior leadership roles. Nickii is passionate about training and professional development for school business professionals, and since 2008 has been...

A few years ago, the idea of making school staff redundant in anything other than the most exceptional of circumstances would have been unthinkable. Sadly, increasing numbers of schools are facing and going through this prospect. 

Paring staffing to the bone while still providing an effective and efficient service is increasingly seen as an essential part of the SBM job description. If your school is struggling to make ends meet, and you are faced with making staffing cutbacks, here are 10 essential points to consider before you start.

1. Have a clear plan

Before making any key decisions, you need a clear plan of action.

  • The starting point for the staffing plan is school need.  The SBM should find this documented in the school’s improvement or development plan (SIP/SDP). This, in turn, starts with critical self-evaluation (the SEF) to identify the schools strengths and weaknesses, the reasons behind these, and what the school needs if it is to improve and develop. 
  • Once the SIP/SDP has established need, school improvement strategies and initiatives are identified, prioritised and appropriate resourcing – including staffing – determined. 
  • Staffing requirements in the SIP/SDP should be represented at role, rather than person, level.  This supports objectivity and longevity; changes will not be required as staff come and go.
  • This information feeds into the budget, where affordability will be tested and overall budgetary position ascertained. 
  • The SBM now has the information required to plan for an appropriate staffing structure. One note of caution: decisions must be based on at least the medium term (3+ years) plan. What the school needs, or doesn’t need, this year, might change in subsequent years, so plan within that context.

2. Ensure the accuracy of the budget

An accurate school budget, explicitly reflecting the SIP/SDP, is crucial to reduce the risk of redundancy. 

  • Staffing costs account for 70%-80% of total expenditure, so staffing and staffing cost information must be accurate and up to date. 
  • Only include confirmed income. Including aspirational income, for example potential lettings, is a high risk, often misleading, strategy. When checking staffing affordability, accurate income figures are vital. 
  • Recognise the in-year position, regardless of carry forward. Staffing costs require an appropriate level of sustainable funding, and one year carry forwards can mask the true longer term position.  
  • Staffing costs and budgeting should be on at least a three year plan. Factor in worst case (i.e. most expensive) pension costs, inflationary increases and performance related pay awards when considering longer term affordability (or sustainability) of the staffing plan.
  • Should the school face a deficit position, the sooner the SBM knows the more proactive they can be in reducing the risk of redundancy.
  • The DfE schools financial health and efficiency toolkit has a wealth of advice on ensuring financial health and efficiency.   

3. Share information

With so much media attention, staff already know schools are facing tough financial times. The SBM has a vital role in helping them understand what this means and the potential impact.

  • Sharing the SIP/SDP and budgetary headline information with staff will help them understand what the school needs to do for the pupils and the challenges it faces. 
  • To avoid creating alarm, information needs to be disseminated strategically and in a way that is timely, accurate and sensitive. Draw up a plan for this.
  • Disseminating key information provides the opportunity to engender staff support. Staff are instrumental in making the school successful and will be most impacted by difficult staffing decisions. So they deserve to know what is happening.
  • Hold training or briefing sessions for staff, middle leaders and governors to help them understand the budget, how it works, and its relationship to the SIP/SDP. 
  • Briefing sessions can help staff understand whole school context and the need to work flexibly within this. If staff know you are working to reduce the risk of redundancy, and understand their role, they are more likely to support proposals which involve working in different ways.

4. Review staffing as a whole

Once resourcing requirements are defined, and overall budgetary implications calculated, the SBM can make informed recommendations regarding the school’s financial future.

  • Regular staffing reviews are essential to ensure the staffing plan is fit for purpose, efficient and effective. Regular reviews also help staff understand their role in providing value for money.*
  • SBMs are often required only to focus on support staff, but as all staff contribute to a common purpose and goals, there is a strong argument for whole-staff reviews.
  • Offer to work with the headteacher or deputy head to create a joined up approach to staffing reviews. Support staff face severe cut backs in many schools but the impact on teachers and their ability to do their job effectively must be taken into account.

*Maintained schools need to complete the schools financial value standards each year. Question 7 (Section A) requires that staffing structures should be reviewed annually in line with curriculum, improvement and as part of workforce planning [SFVS Support Notes, DfE 2017-18: 24].

5. Review roles and responsibilities, not people

In redundancies, it is the role rather than the person which is ‘deleted’.

  • The use of roles rather than names in staffing reviews reflects staffing need as described in the SIP/SDP.
  • Should redundancies become necessary, the SBM should check the medium to long term SIP/SDP requirements to avoid redundancies which could have a detrimental effect on the future of the school.
  • Referring to roles in the staffing reviews emphasises that objective, rather than emotive, judgements will be made.

6. Don't confuse redundancy with performance management or capability

The staffing review should only focus on school resourcing needs.

  • The school should already have an appraisal or performance management arrangement in place (preferably for all staff) as well as capability procedures. 
  • If this is not happening for support staff, the SBM can have a pivotal role in introducing appropriate performance management. As all staff are paid from dwindling public funds, ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of every member of staff is a key responsibility for the SBM. See support staff review and restructure for more guidance. 
  • If a member of staff is unable (or unwilling) to complete their work to a satisfactory standard, redundancy is not the means for dealing with that! See the expert answer correct procedures for parting company with staff for an example scenario. 

7. Beware fixed term contracts: they can become permanent

Temporary and fixed term contracts are used to fulfil temporary requirements such as maternity leave, a new scheme of work, or a gap between permanent posts.

  • Employees on fixed term contracts have rights just as staff on permanent contracts do. This might include the right to redundancy payments.
  • A fixed term or temporarily contracted worker who works continually for the same employer for two years or more may have the same redundancy rights as a permanent employee. 
  • Employees on a fixed term contract for four or more years may automatically become a permanent employee. 
  • Where the employer is the local authority, the school may not even be aware of continuous service. The SBM needs to find this out and monitor accordingly.
  • Keep a spreadsheet to log fixed term or temporary contracts, with start and end dates, to eliminate the risk of nasty surprises.

8. Review before recruiting

Determining need and affordability is essential before proceeding with recruitment. If the school has a vacancy, this might create sufficient ‘slack’ in the staffing structure to avoid redundancies elsewhere.

  • The SBM needs to be aware of all recruitment decisions, as they are best placed to check affordability.
  • Check: does your recruitment and selection policy include a requirement that need and affordability are determined before recruitment can proceed? 
  • Calculate affordability on a ‘worst case’ (i.e. most expensive) cost of new member of staff over at least a three year basis. Include pension as well as inflationary and pay review costs.
  • Annual staff ‘skills and aspirations’ reviews help identify staff ready for new opportunities who might enjoy the CPD benefits of stepping up to cover a temporary gap.
  • Where a vacancy is needed but not affordable, seek a more creative solution. See point below on collaboration!

9. Collaborate with local schools

Working collaboratively with other schools brings many benefits*, so explore the possibilities of innovative staffing solutions across a number of local schools.

  • With many schools facing tough financial decisions, it's likely that local schools are considering redundancies and would welcome collaborative solutions. 
  • Sharing staff, even temporarily, can help reduce the risk of unaffordable recruitment. The SBM is recognised as being well placed to build these collaborative relationships, so include staffing ‘conversations’ within the SBM network.
  • More expensive staff, such as heads of department, SENCO, ICT manager, even the SBM, might be shared across two or more schools
  • ‘Surplus’ staff might be moved to a different school to plug gaps. With a culture of trust and openness, this arrangement can benefit all parties.
  • Make sure collaborative arrangements are formalised in legal contracts and include how areas such as performance management, sick leave and redundancy would be handled.

*For evidence of the far-reaching efficiency savings that schools can achieve by working together, see the review of efficiency in the schools system from the DfE. 

10. Reduce the impact of redundancies

What if redundancy does become the most viable option? Before beginning procedures the school needs to understand the potential risks and impact, and seek to minimise these. 

  • In order to keep the school compliant, the SBM should be acquainted with key legislation and guidance on handling redundancies and seek professional advice. ACAS have useful advice on managing staff redundancies and a booklet on managing large-scale redundancies which can be downloaded from their publications listing.
  • The cost of redundancy needs to be carefully considered before making any decision. The SBM needs to demonstrate that any financial benefits of redundancy are not wiped out by the cost of the process itself.
  • As highlighted in our blog budget cutting should be long-term, not knee-jerk, the complexities of managing redundancies should not be under-estimated. Getting it wrong can leave you with very costly tribunal claims. Redundancy is never going to be a cheap option, at least not in the short term, and if it involves ‘pension strain’ (generally affecting redundancy of staff aged between 55 – 60 years old) the sums soon start adding up.
  • There is potential for reputational risk, both within and outside the school. The SBM should develop a plan for communicating with stakeholders (staff, governors, parents) to optimise understanding and minimise damage. 'The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel and misrepresentation' (C. Northcote Parkinson).


Last Updated: 
27 Nov 2018