Catch up: Advice for the current times – ‘SPRING FORWARD, FALL BACK on PATHWAY’

Spring term topics and an early look ahead to the summer term

An on-demand event jointly hosted by the NAHT and Discovery Education.

Andrew Hammond and Guy Dudley discussed the issues currently facing school leaders and those teaching and working in schools.

In this session, we covered:

  • Pathway Advice Hub and latest Newsletter
  • Sickness absence, flexible working, reasonable adjustments and staff wellbeing
  • Risk management for your school and the positive steps you can take

Many of these topics have been supported by wider advice pieces that can be found in NAHT Discovery Education Pathway’s Advice Hub where you will have access to an online library of information, advice and guidance to support you in your professional role and your continuing professional and personal development and empowerment.

If you’re a Pathway subscriber, you can access these advice pieces in the Pathway Advice Hub.




Opening remarks

‘Health Warning’ for school leaders – this is an area of management activity where procedure is king!

Why? Because if a case of sickness absence ends in a dismissal, on the grounds of ill-health capability, it’s only likely to be ’fair’ provided that the school has followed a reasonable process and normally where there is no realistic prospect of a sustained return within a reasonable period

There’s little room for discretion!

Treat all absences as genuine

In many cases, the cause of someone’s absence will be clear, straightforward and certified by a GP

In some cases, the cause of absence may not be clear and may require further clinical investigation to determine the principal cause of absence

In a few cases, there may be multiple causes of absence and each cause will need to be determined

School leaders are experts in running schools

GPs and consultants are the experts in clinical support and diagnosing the cause/s of absence

Sickness absence does need to be managed however – promptly and fairly

Disingenuous absences will amount to a breach of a school’s disciplinary policy and can be dealt with as such

So let’s take a whistle-stop tour of the different types of absence that are likely to occur in your school and how you can deal with them


Self-certified absence [days 1 – 7]

Where a member of staff notifies the school at the beginning of the first day of the absence, preferably at least 30 minutes before their scheduled start time, in order to allow the school to make alternative arrangements.


Certified absence [day 8 onwards]

If the absence extends beyond seven days, a ‘certificate of fitness to work’ [aka, a sick note] from a GP, or other medical adviser, must be provided from the eighth calendar day onwards – these should be submitted directly to the school at the earliest opportunity to ensure that contractual and sick pay are calculated correctly.

Short-term absences [typically an absence of up to 20 days]

The manager should meet informally with an employee as soon as practicable following their return from any short-term absence. The purpose of the meeting is to check on the employee’s welfare as well as to demonstrate that the absence has been noted. If any notes of the meeting are made these should be kept by the manager and copied to the employee. The appropriate certificates should be in order.

Frequent short-term absences

Absence triggers are helpful to identify the incidence of frequent short-term absences and help school leaders decide whether any further action may be needed [e.g. typically, 5 periods of absence or 15 working days’ absence (cumulative) within a rolling period of 12 months].

If one of these trigger points is reached, the manager should check the accuracy of the sickness absence record and convene a formal absence review meeting at which the staff member has the right to be accompanied by a workplace colleague or trade union representative.

If satisfactory progress has not been made, a further formal absence review meeting will be arranged to explore the reasons and to consider what further action should be taken. This may result in the provision of additional support, a further period of monitoring or a warning.

Long-term sickness absence [typically an absence of more than 20 days]

Typically, a welfare visit should be offered and will normally take place at the employee’s home, where this is agreed.

If the employee is unable to return to work, there are some possible outcomes – these could include a mutually agreed transfer to alternative duties; reducing responsibilities; retirement through ill health; voluntary resignation; or convening an ill-health dismissal hearing.

If an employee declines an offer of a welfare visit, normally a referral will be made to the school’s occupational health service.

Occupational Health

OH provides the school with expert opinion and advice about the health of the employee, especially relating to their professional duties and their overall employment.

The usefulness of the report provided will depend, in large part, on the information provided and advice requested by the referring manager. The employee will normally be allowed access to a copy of the referral.

Outcomes: declared fit for work, make reasonable adjustments, agree alternative duties, Equality Act, ill-health retirement

Returning to work

An employee should not be permitted to return to work until a meeting has been held and the school is satisfied that the employee is fully fit to carry out their normal duties or that a return to modified duties will not prejudice their recovery. In any event, at the earliest, an employee may not return to work before the date indicated by their most recent certificate of fitness to work.

Outcomes: a phased return to work; limited duties/responsibilities; the provision of specialist equipment; additional support or training.



Schools are more enlightened than ever before to the features and benefits of flexible working.

As detailed in ‘Exploring flexible working practice in schools: interim report, 2019’, schools report the following benefits from implementing flexible working:

  • retaining experienced and valued staff
  • attracting and recruiting from a broader pool of teachers
  • promoting wellbeing
  • improving work-life balance

Offering flexible working arrangements can help to ensure that teaching suits staff at different stages of their life, such as those:

  • with caring responsibilities [those with children and/or older parents]
  • planning a phased retirement
  • returning from a career break
  • combining work with professional development or work in their field of study


What is flexible working?

Flexible working can be defined as ‘arrangements which allow employees to vary the amount, timing, or location of their work’ – yes, it really is that straightforward.

Typical examples include: part-time working, job-sharing, phasing retirement, staggering hours, compressed hours, annualised hours, home working.


Requests for flexible working

Non-statutory requests for flexible working are often used to request a one-off or a temporary flexible working arrangement, or arrangements which do not involve altering an employment contract, for example, varying start or finish times but maintaining the same number of hours worked per week.

When making a non-statutory request, the parties can agree to a permanent change of the member of staff’s contractual terms and conditions, but this is not a requirement of the non-statutory route.

Statutory requests for flexible working are made under The Employment Rights Act 1996 that introduced the formal right for employees to request flexible working, subject to 26 weeks of continuous employment or if they haven’t made a request to work flexibly within the past 12 months.

Schools have a responsibility to provide a response to a statutory flexible working request within three months, including the conclusion of any appeal.

An accepted request will amount to a permanent change to the member of staff’s contractual terms and conditions, unless agreed otherwise.

If the school refuses the flexible working request, they must write to the member of staff giving the reasons for the refusal:

  • burden of additional costs
  • Inability to meet customer demand [for customers, read pupils and their parents or carers]
  • inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • inability to recruit additional staff
  • detrimental impact on quality
  • detrimental impact on performance
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural changes.

Ultimately, decision-making on flexible working requests remains with the school.

Schools may find it more sustainable in the longer term to consider flexible working on a whole-school level, rather than considering individual requests as they arise, sharing with staff the best times in the year to submit a request to align with the timetabling process.

Let’s now look at some of the potential challenges to implementing flexible for schools

Parental attitudes to flexible working arrangements and their preference for a single school leader

Cost [e.g. additional salary costs to support handover arrangements]

Attainment [there’s limited evidence to support this concern]

Timetabling and the fragmentation of teaching and learning [solution: take a whole-school approach]

Part-time leadership roles may be too demanding on the incumbents [solution: if possible, adjust the responsibilities]

Performance [again, there’s little evidence to support this concern]

School practices [e.g. meeting days/times may need to be adjusted]



Opening remarks

There is some scope for discretion in this area

You don’t have to make reasonable adjustments [if making them is impractical, prohibitively costly or where they won’t overcome the disadvantage?]

However, they don’t have to cost much and funding may be available [e.g. Access to Work]

Reasonable adjustments – let’s consider some practical examples

  • Ensure the school’s premises are modified and accessible, such as designating disabled parking bays, installing automated doors, providing ramps, quiet areas, alternative formats of signage or directions around the school
  • Modify equipment to support a disabled worker (e.g. supportive chairs, height-adjustable/standing desk or a specialist keyboard)
  • Alter recruitment assessment procedures, such as giving applicants extra time, providing assistive technology or ergonomic equipment
  • Provide a mentor/companion to support an employee in using new adjustments (such as speech or text software) or coping strategies (common, for example, with dyslexia or mental health conditions)
  • Modify duties, workload, working patterns, location or working hours
  • Put in place a ‘phased return’ after a prolonged period of sickness absence
  • Facilitate time off during working hours, for example, for hospital appointments, physiotherapy, counselling or ongoing treatment
  • Provide an interpreter (for people who, for example, are deaf or have a speech impediment)
  • Modify sickness absence triggers if an absence is related to a disclosed condition
  • Tailor performance objectives to match the capacity of the member of staff
  • Consider flexible working

Remember, reasonable adjustments are not only relevant to staff at the school but job applicants who you invite to interview.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments, where there is a case to do so, is likely to amount to ‘disability discrimination’.

An employee who feels discriminated against may raise matters with their line manager informally, invoke a formal grievance or, in more serious cases, bring a claim against the school to an employment tribunal.



Opening remarks

As a school leader, you have a duty of care to each member of your staff

You can fulfil a great deal of that responsibility by contributing positively to their sense of wellbeing

There’s no silver bullet! Everyone will have their own, often highly-developed narrative about wellbeing

It’s generally enough to:

  • Demonstrate your authentic commitment to wellbeing
  • Put some basic structures in place [e.g. a policy, wellbeing champions]
  • Practice what you preach

Demonstrate your commitment 

Assess the perception of wellbeing in your school – arrange a staff survey and ensure part of it addresses wellbeing. If you want a more focused approach, you may wish to arrange for a dedicated wellbeing survey. You do need, however, to be ready and prepared to act on any findings.

Categorise your findings into:

A            Quick wins!

B            Placing good ideas into the School Improvement Plan / Ofsted-Ready Plan

C            Longer-term objectives


Put some basic structures in place

Wellbeing policy [on the back of the Staff Survey]

Establish a staff wellbeing group and/or a ‘wellbeing champion’ to lead on any action plans resulting from the survey’s findings

Ensure your wellbeing policy cross-references the school’s other relevant policies [e.g. flexible working]

Make sure you and the senior leadership team monitor activities and progress at regular intervals

Practice you preach

Let something go and delegate in areas that provide some ‘professional stretch’ for others – this is not abdication!

Show staff you value them – your staff will look to you, as a school leader, to recognise and appreciate what they do.

Invest in staff development – nothing says “I value you” more – Pathway?!

Keep messages clear and consistent – people like clarity and the perception of fairness at work is a strong factor in staff wellbeing.

Keeping everyone safe – address staff and parental behaviour that impacts on the sense of wellbeing.

Ensure health and safety is a priority for the school and that the school’s environment is as pleasant and welcoming as possible.

Check whether your school has access to an ‘employee assistance programme’ that gives staff free and confidential access to counselling and other support services and use occupational health services to support wellbeing, phased return arrangements or reasonable adjustments.

Setting time aside on an INSET day to discuss wellbeing and workload issues can throw up some creative ways to improve wellbeing.

Your own wellbeing

Almost inevitably, you’ll be concentrating on the wellbeing of your staff before thinking about your own.

The governors also have a duty of care to you.

Some school leaders build a wellbeing objective into their appraisal arrangements. Formalising the wellbeing objective ensures everyone is clear about the arrangement; the governors are content they are addressing their duty of care; you won’t feel (or feel less) guilty and, as the school leader, you’ll be focusing on achieving an objective that will actually benefit you and ultimately the school.

When planning your diary, build your daily breaks in first, and then, plan in other meetings or commitments.

The STPCD places a statutory duty on the head teacher and the governing body to have regard to the need for the head and teachers, at any school, to be able to achieve a satisfactory balance between work and their personal interests.

Head teachers, deputies, assistant heads and leading practitioners in maintained schools have no contracted working hours under STPCD; however, that does not mean that working time should be unreasonable. Such roles are governed by the Working Time Regulations 1998, which state that an individual should not be expected to work for more than a 48 hour week over a 17 week reference period.

Staff need to be aware that they too have a personal responsibility for their wellbeing and health and safety.

Many head teachers now have an arrangement with their governing body that they will work away from their school on a regular basis.

Don’t send emails after normal working hours [Since 2017, France has made it unlawful to send out-of-hours emails, aka ‘The French Disconnection’]

Aim to have ‘GB meeting days’ [say, one full day each term or one half-day every half-term]

An important aspect of wellbeing is to feel that you have control over your work!


Risk is inherent in everything schools do and should therefore be an essential part of leadership and governance, and an integral part of planning and decision-making processes.

For academies, it’s a requirement of the Academies Financial Handbook (AFH) that:

  • Academy trusts must manage risks to ensure their effective operation and they must maintain a risk register
  • The trust’s management of risks must include contingency and business continuity planning.

Risk management involves the identification, measurement, management, monitoring and reporting of threats.

Risk examples for schools:

  • school trips
  • litigation relating to safeguarding failures
  • financial uncertainty from a falling roll
  • security risk from inappropriate access to data
  • property risk from fire or flood
  • accidents resulting in injury
  • natural disasters and of course, a global pandemic.

There is no “one size fits all” for risk management arrangements. They must be tailored to fit the size, complexity and particular challenges facing a school.

Risk management is not about adding new processes, but ensuring processes are integrated in the management and operation of schools.

Although ultimate overall responsibility for risk management, including the oversight of the risk register, lies typically with a school’s governing body, the school should or must [in the case of academies] appoint an audit and risk committee to:

  • direct the school’s programme of internal scrutiny
  • ensure that risks are being addressed appropriately through internal scrutiny
  • report to the governing body on the adequacy of the school’s internal control framework, including financial and non-financial controls and management of risks.

It’s also important that schools ensure there is an individual identified who has responsibility for risk management on a day-to-day basis.

Risk management policy

The first step a school should carry out is to define its approach to risk management in a risk management policy. This document should set out the framework the school has adopted for risk management and should include the school’s risk appetite, the processes for identifying, categorising, measuring risks and its strategy for treating risks. The policy should also include roles and responsibilities, monitoring, reporting and review procedures, and training arrangements to ensure effective risk management is embedded throughout the school.


At the risk identification stage, all potential events that are a threat to the achievement of a school’s objectives (including not capitalising on opportunities) are identified, defined and categorised. A common approach is to consider risks under the following categories:

  • Internal risks– Examples of such risks include health and safety risks, data security.
  • External risks– Examples of such risks include a pandemic and extreme weather.
  • Strategic risks– For example, the risk of high staff turnover.
  • Project risks– For example slippage on the delivery timescale for a new building.


Once risks have been identified it’s important to measure them to give a standard for comparing the risks consistently. Measurement consists of assessment, evaluation, and ranking.

The aim of assessment is to better understand each specific instance of risk, and how it could affect a school, so a school should estimate:

  • the likelihood (or probability) of it occurring, and
  • the impact (or severity) if it did occur.

There are various ways to assess likelihood and impact, but, in an education context, a rational approach could be to simply assess each on a high, medium, low [H/M/L] scale. Alternatively a scoring approach could be used, using a range of 1 to 5 for each identified risk. For example, a score of 5 for likelihood would denote an extremely likely event and 5 for impact would denote a critical level of damage.

Evaluation: the “r scores” for each risk’s likelihood and impact respectively are combined to derive a single risk score reflecting its overall level of threat. Risks could be evaluated as H/H, H/M, L/H and so on. Alternatively, using a range of 1 to 5 would generate a numeric score with the minimum being 1 (1×1) and the maximum being 25 (5×5).

Ranking: once the scores for likelihood and impact have been combined into a single risk score, they can be plotted on a risk matrix. Here’s an example of the risk matrix:

It’s common practice to use a traffic light system (Red, Amber, Green, aka a RAG-rating) for an intuitive representation of the ranking of risks.

It is for the governing body to decide the best approach for the school, which will be easily understood.

Management control

Once risks have been assessed, evaluated and ranked, schools will need to ensure there are appropriate plans to manage them.

The approach taken will depend substantially on a school’s risk appetite and risk capacity:

  • Risk appetite– the amount of risk a school is willing to accept in the pursuit of its objectives
  • Risk capacity– the resources which the school is able to put in place in managing risk

Governors may feel more comfortable when there is greater control of risk, but the availability of a school’s resources and capacity must be taken into consideration. Excessive control may be stifling as well as expensive and controls and resources will directly affect how assured governors feel about risks.

Once a school has established its risk tolerance and capacity, it can move onto developing a risk control strategy. Again, there are various ways to do this and no one way is right, but one easy-to-follow approach is to consider the “4 T’s”.

Selecting the most appropriate risk treatment option(s) involves balancing the potential benefits from the achievement of objectives against the costs, efforts, or disadvantages of proposed actions. The table below is typically known as a school’s tolerance grid.

Tolerating risk is where no action is taken. This may be because the cost of instituting controls is not cost-effective or the risk or impact is so low that they are considered acceptable. For instance, a school may decide to tolerate the risk of contracting with a supplier with a poor credit rating, provided the goods/services could be obtained relatively easily from someone else.

Treating risk involves controlling it with actions to minimise the likelihood of occurrence or impact. There may also be contingency measures to reduce impact if it does occur. For instance, a school may decide to train more than the statutory minimum of staff as paediatric first aiders and to put in place a rota for first aid cover during lunchtimes.

Transferring risk may involve the use of insurance or payment to third parties willing to take on the risk themselves. A school may decide to take out insurance to mitigate the risk of the excessive costs of supply staff in the event of extended staff absences.

Terminating risk can be done by altering an inherently risky process to remove the risk altogether. For instance, a school may decide not to contract with a related party to eliminate reputational risk.


Monitoring should be ongoing and continuous as this supports a school’s understanding of whether and how individual risks and the overall risk profile is changing. Monitoring also provides assurance on the extent to which the mitigating actions and controls are operating as intended and whether risks are being managed to an acceptable level.

The risk register is central to risk monitoring. As risks are identified, they should be logged on the register and the associated control measures documented. A risk register should be a ‘live document’ and come in various formats and no particular version is recommended.

However, some elements should always be included:

  • Risk category– risk should be categorised under, for example, IT, finance, HR, premises, to facilitate their effective management
  • Risk description– a description of the potential risk and its consequences, e.g. “a cyber-attack on the school – students cannot access their work”
  • Risk ID– a unique number used to identify and track the risk
  • Objective threatened– the relevant objective that the risk would affect
  • The estimated likelihood that the risk will occur. This could be scored H/M/L
  • The estimated impact of the risk if it materialised. This too should be scored
  • The gross risk score– the combined score of the estimated likelihood and impact – known as the inherent risk
  • Control measures– which of the risk treatment option(s) (the T’s) have been opted for and the rationale for the decision. Also what the proposed actions are, including timescales for implementation and resources required
  • The net risk score– the residual risk that remains after control measures have been put in place
  • Risk ranking– this is the overall level of the residual risk, it reflects its position on the risk matrix and, if appropriate, its “traffic light” rating
  • Risk trigger– what would trigger the implementation of contingency plans?
  • Contingency plan– an action plan to address the risk if it does materialise and what plans are in place to mitigate the risk
  • Risk owner– to decide whether the risk trigger needs to be activated, manage the control measures and contingency plans
  • Date of last review– this is when the risk was last reviewed
  • Current status of risk– this should include any comments that will support the review of the risk at the appropriate time
  • Risk retired date and rationale for retiring risk– this is an audit of any risks that have been retired with the rationale

Reporting and scrutiny

The governing body and the audit and risk committee should set out how and when it wants to receive information about risks. The information should support an assessment whether decisions are being made within a school’s risk appetite, to review the adequacy and effectiveness of internal controls, to reprioritise resources and improve controls and to identify emerging risks.

The frequency of a review of the risk register is a matter for the governing body – academies are required to have at least an annual review. It’s important to note that academies are required to explain their principal risks and the plan for managing those risks.

Schools must test the controls and mitigating actions to ensure that they have been implemented and are effective – e.g. schools could ask their IT provider to produce their MIS backup data within contract time; fire drills and evacuation procedures are also good examples of testing the controls in place.

Common pitfalls

  • Reporting too many risks: schools can fall into the trap of tracking too many risks or ones that substantially overlap. Schools may choose to prioritise their “top 10” or group related risks. Smaller risks may be delegated to key staff
  • Ignoring known risks: risks are sometimes ignored because of organisational politics or the preferences of a dominant personality. Are you ignoring the elephant in the room because of the tone at the top?
  • Overreliance on subjective judgement: individual perceptions influence the way risks are assessed. Potential risks should be discussed with the aim of reaching consensus and a common understanding of what they are and how they should be dealt with
  • No real buy-in at a senior level: the person who administers the risk management framework may not have the seniority to have an impact or the capacity to fulfil the role effectively. As a result, risk management may not get the required attention and the process may decline into a tick-box exercise. Schools should ensure that the person appointed is sufficiently senior to have adequate influence and has sufficient time to dedicate to the role, and/or designate a governor as their “risk champion”
  • Risks not linked to strategic objectives or only captured bottom-up: commonly risks are captured from the bottom up and this can leave them disassociated from strategic objectives
  • Over-complexity: endless discussions about methodology and terminology, which leave no time left to address the risks themselves, are symptomatic of an over-engineered approach
  • Not using the output: it has been said that all management is risk management. Schools that put the review of risks as the last item on meeting agendas run the risk of under-valuing this important function and the consequences of what could be a catastrophic risk malfunction.