Trade union representatives are entitled to reasonable paid time off (known as facility time) to take part in trade union duties, such as negotiating with employers and representing members in grievance procedures. The Department for Education is not proposing any change to this legislation, but the interpretation of what is reasonable varies widely, with some representatives spending 100% of their time on union work funded by the taxpayer, instead of teaching.
Many school leaders are already reviewing their facility time budgets in order to invest as much as possible in teaching and learning, and we want to support schools to maximise their spending on the resources and activities that make the greatest difference to pupil outcomes.
There are examples of excellent practice where facility time is managed efficiently and transparently. There are also, however, examples where costs are very high and there is no clear information about how this money is being spent.
For instance in one area, approximately 10 full-time equivalent classroom teacher union representatives received taxpayer funding of nearly £400,000 in 2011 to 2012 - more than 3 times the amount spent by another, larger local authority with 10,000 more school places, in the same year.
There is also evidence that taxpayers are funding a large number of union representatives who are paid as teachers but do not spend any of their contracted time, whether they are full or part time, teaching. This creates additional work for the very many hardworking teachers across the country. Some of these local, regional and national union representatives have therefore not taught in a school for many years. Some are nominally employed as ‘home tutors’ by their local authority, while others receive large salaries on the teachers’ scale (in some cases up to £70,000 a year) but have no teaching timetable or leadership responsibilities. This represents a significant cost to the taxpayer of many millions of pounds.
We believe that for a trade union representative to function effectively and represent the views of employees, it is necessary for them to be actively involved in their day-to-day jobs. Several local authorities and other school employers have already reduced the number of full-time representatives working in their areas and focused their spending on a small number of part time representatives, for example one local authority has cut down from 100% reps to one day a week per union rep.
The department is launching a call for evidence from employers, school leaders, teachers and members of the public about facility time. We want to know how facility time could be managed more transparently and how we can ensure it makes the most efficient use of taxpayers’ money.
David Laws, Schools Minister, said:
We need to ensure that all public spending is used effectively and gets through to the front line. There are concerns that the taxpayer is funding trade union representatives who are spending too little time actually teaching.
Effective representation of teachers can play an important role in schools, but for too long teaching unions have received taxpayer funding with little transparency to the public about how this is spent. We believe substantial efficiencies can be found.
I believe that it is reasonable to expect all trade union representatives in schools to spend the majority of their working hours carrying out their school-based jobs. Trade union representatives should be grounded in classroom practice, and should not be spending all their taxpayer funded time out of the classroom.
The call for evidence will be open between 19 September and 25 October 2013. School leaders, teachers and parents can respond electronically through the online response facility available on the Department for Education e-consultation website.
Notes to editors
Elsewhere across government, efficiencies in spending on facility time are being found. The civil service is removing all 100% trade union posts and has introduced a requirement for departments to publish details of facility time annually. The Department for Communities and Local Government has advised councils to save taxpayers’ money by significantly scaling back the cost of facility time, limiting it to a set percentage of an organisation’s pay bill.
This call for evidence does not cover how trade unions spend the funds they generate from membership fees, which is a matter for the trade unions themselves.