Notice provisions exist as a protection for both parties to the employment contract. For the employee, they are a reassurance that short of committing gross misconduct, he or she cannot be fired without at least seeing the bullet coming.
For the employer, they prevent unscheduled departures turning timetables into professional colanders.
Employees have the benefit of two sets of notice rights: statutory (in the 1978 Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act) and contractual (set out in individual contracts or conditions of service).
The 1978 Act entitles staff to at least one week's notice for each completed year of employment, up to twelve. Rights under contract can vary by sector, and are set out below
Maintained sector and sixth form colleges
Teachers need to resign by:
31 October for their employment to end on 31 December
28 February for their employment to end on 30 April (see additional advice on spring resignations)
31 May for their employment to end on 31 August.
The Burgundy Book (section 3, paragraph 4.1) states that 'all teachers shall be under a minimum of two months' notice, and in the summer term three months', terminating at the end of a school term. Terms are as defined in paragraph 1 as 1 May to 31 August (summer), 1 September to 31 December (autumn) and 1 January to 30 April (spring).
Even where the summer term at your new school or college starts before the end of April, the standard notice requirements for resignation will continue to apply. If you are leaving a maintained school to start at another school or college at the beginning of the summer term, you should submit your resignation letter by 28 February as normal.
You should state that, although you are giving two months' notice to take effect on 30 April, you will be starting work at your new workplace from the start of the summer term and do not expect to be paid from that date as you will no longer be available for work.
If you have been transferred (under TUPE) from a maintained school to an academy then your notice rights and responsibilities will transfer with you. If you have not transferred then you should check your contract for clarification about notice periods.
The length of notice required and given by the employer under the contract of employment varies from school to school. However, the most commonly used contractual terms are:
the notice periods required in the maintained sector (see above)
a term's notice to be given before the first teaching day of the term at the end of which employment will terminate (most contracts define the ends of terms as 31 December, 30 April and 31 August).
Notice from either party is normally required in writing. In addition, many schools:
use shorter notice periods in the first year of employment (eight weeks' notice from either party is the norm)
require longer notice periods for the most senior staff (eg more than a term's notice).
Notice periods for lecturers in further education vary from college to college but are generally longer than in schools. They should be set out in each lecturer's contract.
All employees should have their notice period requirement and entitlement stated clearly in their contracts. Most education support staff employed in the state sector are contractually entitled to one month's notice during their first four years of service.
The statutory minimum period of notice that an employee is required to give to his/her employer when he or she is leaving is one week, but for members who are employed under National Joint Council for Local Government Services terms and conditions (commonly referred to as the 'Green Book'), the minimum period required is one month. This is normally the requirement for all support staff working in the state sector.
Fixed term/temporary contracts
For employees on fixed-term or temporary contracts, the position is slightly different. In effect, the contract has an end date, so there is no need for either party to give notice for a departure on that specific date.
However, it is good practice for either party to inform the other if the contract will not be renewed (indeed if there is a redundancy situation the employer is obliged to do so). If a temporary contract is ended before the finish date by either party, then the appropriate notice requirements will apply.
If a contract has not been issued
If a contract has not been issued, it needs to be established if the notice requirements were made known verbally or if there is a staff handbook or manual which includes a section on notice periods which employees are told to familiarise themselves with.
If employed as a teacher in the maintained sector you should give notice in line with the Burgundy Book (see above) regardless of whether or not a formal contract has been issued.
Leaving before the notice term has expired
If you leave employment without giving the full amount of notice required by law, your employer may be prepared to grant an early release from your contract. However, you could also expose yourself to unfortunate consequences.
Your employer may refuse a reference (or send one in unsupportive terms). A teacher has no legal right to a reference at all and cannot challenge its contents unless it is inaccurate and/or malicious (see the references section of this website).
Your employer could also take you to court. The employer can seek compensation if as a direct result of receiving inadequate notice additional expense is incurred. The claim cannot include the normal cost of advertising the vacancy, but the extra costs of, say, advertising more widely or expensively to fill a post at short notice could be claimed.
Such claims are rare; to ATL's knowledge, no LEA has yet sued a teacher for leaving early. However, independent schools have been known to withhold final salary payments from departing employees as security for consequent expenses. Similarly, some local authorities already pursue claims against staff to recover training expenses if their departure breaks a 'staying on' covenant.
Need further advice?
Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.