September 6

The Paralympics have shown just what disabled people are capable of, with support and when they are valued . . .

The Paralympics are a great reminder of the success that can be achieved by overcoming barriers presented by disability. Employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage suffered by a disabled employee, but there are other incentives for making these adjustments besides merely avoiding liability for discrimination claims – many businesses enjoy a number of benefits from being equal opportunities employers.
Employers who make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and promote equality of opportunity in their workforce in other ways are more likely to attract and retain a wider and more diverse pool of talent and expertise.
Making reasonable adjustments means disabled employees feel valued and supported and this often improves morale and employee loyalty. Significantly, making reasonable adjustments will often mean that the employee is better able to carry out their work; leading to improved productivity and performance. Such improvements in performance and morale will also likely lead to a reduction in absenteeism.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where a ‘provision, practice or criterion’ of the employer puts a disabled employee or job applicant at a substantial disadvantage compared to others. A failure to do so will amount to disability discrimination.
Adjustments can be wide ranging, may be major or minor and what is ‘reasonable’ will depend on a number of factors and will vary from organisation to organisation.
The types of reasonable adjustments include, but are by no means limited to, the following:
• Changing the work location of the employee: a more accessible floor, a different site or allowing the employee to work from home.
• Making changes to the workplace such as installing ramps, lifts or stair lifts.
• Changes to equipment: such as chairs, screen raisers or magnifying screens.
• Changing the way information is communicated: in writing rather than orally where possible, or vice versa, and using different font sizes, colours and language.
• Offering employees access to services such as counselling.
• For mental health disabilities, such as depression, a ‘buddy’ system may be implemented whereby the employee is assigned a mentor.
• For a dyslexic employee, an employer may install text-to-speech software, specialist spell-check and timekeeping packages and assist with checking written work.

However, what is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment for an employer to make will vary according to factors such as: the extent to which the adjustment is practical and effective in removing the disadvantage, the financial costs involved, the alternative options and the size, nature and resources of the business. It is worth reiterating however, that employers should also keep in mind the benefits of making reasonable adjustments and of being an equal opportunities employer.

September 1

Appraising teachers in a more ‘commercial’ fashion . . .

The new arrangements for teacher appraisal that came into effect on 1 September 2012 specifically apply to maintained schools, but independent schools would be ill advised to ignore the spirit of the regulations at the very least.
The main thrust of the guidance is to remove the overlap between the current appraisal and capability systems enabling underperformance to be tackled more swiftly and effectively.
Teachers must now be appraised annually against a set of goals and targets that will have been decided on the basis of the outcome of their previous annual appraisal, but also following consultation with the teacher concerned – by involving teachers in the process, rather than taking a ‘top down’ prescriptive approach, teachers are more involved and positive about the appraisal process which means appraisals are much more likely to encourage and support progress and improvement.
Although schools previously had some sort of appraisal system in place it was often termed ‘performance management’ which is very misleading, because the two are so very different – appraisal is a means of monitoring the performance of a teacher whereas ‘performance management’ is a method used within a capability process ostensibly to improve performance but in reality often the beginning of the inevitable slow march to dismissal.
The recent changes to the capability procedure bring it in line with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures and make the process shorter and less complex than was previously the case. The most important change is that the suggested length of the monitoring and review period of a teacher following a first warning has been reduced from 20 weeks to between 4 and 10 weeks. Although the guidance makes it clear that the length of the review period must be reasonable in the circumstances of each case and must provide sufficient time for improvements to take place, this is, nonetheless, likely to lead to a speeding up of the process in which schools can, and probably will, deal with underperforming teachers. Previously, a school would have had its work cut out persuading an employment tribunal that a period of review less than 20 weeks was reasonable, now it seems that it would become a much easier task.
Private sector employers do not commonly have explicit written prescribed methods, but if they did it is unlikely that they would be as long as 20 weeks. The range of 4 to 10 weeks (although in fairness probably the upper end of that) is far more reasonable with all relevant factors being considered, just as private employers do.

Independent schools are not obliged to follow this recently introduced guidance but your school is a business and these suggestions are all commercially sound and adopted by private sector employers in every sector of the marketplace. A structured process of appraisal coupled with a clear capability policy is essential in ensuring employees are supported, if necessary, whilst they reach their potential but their employment may be fairly terminated if it becomes clear that such potential will not be reached.