On 15 March 2023, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget 2023 was revealed. There are several changes outlined within the Budget that are likely to have a practical effect on schools – the main points are outlined below.
Employment in education
It is reported within the Budget that currently, only half of UK employees have access to occupational health services. The Government’s intention is to introduce policies that “encourage employers to support people back into work, to work more, and to prevent them falling out of work”.
To achieve this, the Government says it will consult on ways to boost the UK’s occupational health coverage and consider the introduction of regulations, making provision of such services a requirement.
Further, the Government is also intending to expand the occupational health pilot subsidy scheme for small and medium sized businesses, which was initially announced by the Department for Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions in 2021.
Schools may wish to review their current provision for occupational health services to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place. Further guidance on the contents of any new regulations is awaited.
In the Budget, it is set out that flexible working can “help employees balance work commitments and personal circumstances, such as parenting, caring, managing a health condition, or transitioning from full-time work later in life”.
The Government will therefore launch a call for evidence in the summer of this year to understand more about how flexible working in an informal context works in practice. There is also an intention to reform the statutory framework in this area, as outlined further below.
Flexible working arrangements can present challenges for schools given the desire for continuity of provision. Schools should keep a watchful eye on developments in this area and review existing flexible working policies if statutory changes are implemented.
Private members’ bills
In a move to further strengthen employment rights, the Budget reiterates the Government’s support for several Private Members’ Bills that grant specific groups protections or leave entitlements. As stated within the Budget, these areas include “enhanced redundancy protection for pregnancy, family leave, carer’s leave, and neonatal care leave”.
An overview of the relevant Private Members’ Bills is provided below, albeit these may be subject to amendment.
Family leave and pay
The end of 2022 saw the Government backing various Private Members’ Bills in relation to family leave and pay which are anticipated to become law in 2023, and will have widespread application to staff in schools:
- The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill will:
- Widen the scope of redundancy protection to pregnant women and to new parents who have recently returned to work from maternity, shared parental or adoption leave.
- Extend the redundancy protection period so that it begins when an employee informs her employer that she is pregnant and ends 18 months from the start of maternity leave. Similar provisions will apply to staff who are adopting a child or taking a period of shared parental leave.
Further details on the proposed changes and the impact on schools can be found in our article here.
- The Carer’s Leave Bill will entitle employees who are providing or arranging care for dependents to one week’s unpaid leave per year and protection from dismissal or detriment as a result of having taken time off.
- The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill will allow parents to take up to 12 weeks of additional paid leave, on top of other entitlements, namely maternity and paternity leave when their babies require specialist care after birth.
Following its consultation response on “Making Flexible Working the Default”, the Government has also reiterated its support to the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill. If implemented, it will result in the following changes:
- The right to request flexible working will become a day one right for all employees – i.e., it can be requested from the first day of employment, which is in contrast to the current 26-week qualifying period.
- Employers will be required to consult with an employee before rejecting a flexible working request in order to discuss whether any alternative forms of flexible working are available.
- Employees will be allowed to make two flexible working requests in a 12-month period, instead of one.
- The timeframe for employers to respond to a request will reduce to two months from three.
Further details about the consultation and proposed changes can be found here.
Teaching and childcare
There are also several plans outlined in the Budget relevant specifically to the education sector, as follows.
The Budget reiterates the Government’s commitment to maths to 18. It is not yet clear how this is likely to be implemented and in what form.
The Budget introduces Returnerships: a new offer targeted at the over-50s, which brings together existing skills programmes, supported by £63 million of additional funding.
By September 2025, the Government plans to provide 30 hours of free childcare for every child aged over 9 months (this is currently available only for 3 – 4-year-olds). This will be introduced gradually over the next few years.
Wraparound pathfinder scheme
The Government is also launching a new wraparound pathfinder scheme to support the expansion of school based childcare provision, either side of the school day. The hope is that all children will be able to access 8am – 6pm childcare provision locally.
Impact on schools
Several of the changes and plans set out within the Budget will have an impact on schools. Although we do not have definitive implementation dates for the proposed legislative changes outlined above – which may be subject to change, it is clear from the number and range of Private Members’ Bills, and the support for them outlined within the Budget, that far-reaching changes to employment law are likely to be on the horizon in 2023. These are summarised in further detail in our article on employment law changes for 2023 which can be found here.
In due course, schools will need to prepare for the changes by reviewing and updating their existing policies and procedures – for example, in relation to flexible working – and implementing new ones, where required, for example, in relation to carer’s leave and neonatal leave and pay.