Legal advice and support as a teacher or trainer

Understanding your employment rights in the post-14 education sector is crucial if you are being treated unfairly or missing out on benefits you are entitled to.

Every organisation has the responsibility of following certain rules and regulations, but unfortunately this does not mean they always get it right. Your employment rights will also vary depending on the kind of job you do, the contract you have with your employer, as well as your statutory rights.

Terms and conditions relating to hours or work, leave, and disciplinary rules, will also differ according to whether you are an employee, a worker, an agency worker or self-employed. (The basic statutory employment framework can be found in the Employment Rights Act 1996.)


Seeking support from a union representative

As a teacher or trainer you may have already joined a trade union which represents people working in your sector. There may also be an agreement in place with your organisation and a trade union. If this is the case, it is worth joining the one attached to your place of work as they will be in the best position to represent you at tribunals, hearings or meetings. Unions can also help members when there are joint or collective concerns, such as restructures or redundancies.


Unions relating to the Further Education and Training sector

University and College Union (UCU): Union representing lecturers, trainers, academics, instructors, researchers, administrators, managers, staff and postgraduates from universities, colleges, prisons, adult education or training organisations

NEU – National Education Union: The union for education professionals in the maintained, independent and post-16 sectors, from early years to higher education (HE), teachers to support staff, lecturers, heads and leaders across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union: Representing teachers and head teachers in all sectors, from early years to FE, offering professional advice and guidance through a network of trained caseworkers and solicitors

Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP): A professional association and trade union for registered educational psychologists practicing in the UK

For more information about joining a union visit the Trade Union Congress (TUC) website.



If there is no union representative at your organisation and issues are generally dealt with internally, or perhaps you have decided not to join a union, you may want to consider speaking in confidence to a mentor (or ‘supporter’).

Mentors there to provide formal support through regular meetings and observations, as well as being there to reassure you when workloads get too demanding or if you feel you are being treated unfairly. You can find out more about how to register for a mentor via SET’s mentoring service. For basic advice on basic rights at work and contacts, pay, holiday and rights, contact Citizens Advice.


An overview of your employment rights

Teachers are entitled to a number of statutory rights and responsibilities. These include:

  • A written statement detailing your employment: You should receive this within two months of starting your job, stating your holiday entitlement, pay and a clear job description.
  • 1998 Working Time Regulations: Teachers are safeguarded against working excessive hours, with some flexibilities to cover exceptional circumstances at work (for example, Ofsted visits). You should also be allocated sufficient time to planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time, as well as rest breaks. There are also rules around the amount of cover you are required to provide for an absent colleague.
  • Paid holiday entitlement: As an example, for FE lecturers this is usually anything between 37-60 days per year plus bank holidays. Often contracts allow for at least four weeks’ consecutive leave in the summer. Sixth-form college teachers 'cannot normally be required to work on any of the 170 days not specified as working days by the college'. Trainers who work in independent training providers (ITPs) generally get less leave of around 25 days per year.
  • A sick pay scheme: This will vary depending on the organisation. Some will start from one month of full pay for 25 working days during the first year of service and rise with the length of employment: part-time lecturers’ sick pay is calculated pro-rata; others will have six months’ full pay and six months’ half pay, whereas smaller organisations and ITPs may offer statutory sick pay (SSP) only.
  • Statutory rights: These should also be offered for: pregnancy, maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay, parental leave, time off to care for dependents, as well as the right to request flexible working. You may also be entitled to special leave (paid or unpaid) to attend one-off events or compassionate leave. Local Authority policies may also apply in relation to special leave.

Temporary/fixed-term contracts

Employment contracts for teachers or trainers working in adult and community education will often be sessional, short-term or temporary. Because of this, holiday or sick pay is calculated in a different way and there will be no guarantee of further employment beyond the contract term.

If you are employed on a fixed-term contract, providing you have one year’s continuous employment, you have the right to make a complaint of unfair dismissal if your employer fails to renew your contract without giving you a fair reason. Where non-renewal of a contract is part of a reorganisation or is regarded in law as a redundancy, trade union representation is advised.


Disputes, bullying and discrimination

Organisations should follow fair procedures when it comes to disciplinary issues, grievances (complaints) and assessing employees’ capability. For example, if you are called to a meeting about a disciplinary matter, you must be given advance notice with detailed information about the concerns being raised about you.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against people on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. Employees suffering from stress are also protected by law, as employees are required to assess the risk of stress-related ill-health arising from work activities and to take action to control that risk.


Restructures and redundancy*

If you are affected by restructuring or mergers there are established procedures and guidelines in place to protect you. These include staff being consulted and given sufficient time to make decisions affecting their future, along with fair and open selection of candidates for newly created posts.

In addition, absence records should not be used against a candidate – this could discriminate against women who have had time off for maternity leave or those who have been absent due to ill health or disability, for example.

*The information on restructures and redundancy may not apply to teachers/trainers on short-term or temporary contracts.



When it comes to dismissals, legal advice is based on ascertaining whether the dismissal was fair. Dismissals are classed as 'automatically unfair' if the reasons behind the dismissal relate to an employee exercising an employment right, such as pregnancy, pay and working hours, and so on.

However, a dismissal may be fair if the employer can show that it is related to the employee’s conduct or capability, redundancy, or another substantial reason.