Date updated: Wednesday 31st January 2024

With both the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 and the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 expected to come into force on 6 April 2024, schools and colleges need to ensure they are ready to consider any requests.

The new legislation comes into force at a time when flexible working is a hot topic within the education sector. Whilst many employers in other sectors offer flexibility (indeed a new Acas report states that 3 in 10 employers have seen an increase in employees working from home in the past year) education establishments have struggled with how to offer flexibility to staff whilst ensuring minimal impact on students. The recent announcement by Dixons Academies Trust that they will introduce a 9-day fortnight for teaching staff, remote working during non-contact time and personal days during term offers a real-life example of how to afford staff some of the flexibility that is available in other sectors. As a consequence of Dixons and others taking these steps, discussions about how flexible working could work in the sector have become more frequent and in depth. Whilst we recognise the significance and importance of the change in the legal position regarding flexible working, our view is that this provides just a starting point for schools and colleges. Given the recruitment challenges which are facing the sector, providing innovative approaches to flexibility is an important tool for school and college leaders. Of course it is only part of the picture, but active engagement with the many flexible working options is essential to ensuring that education establishments remain and in some cases become attractive employers to high quality staff. 

What steps should schools and colleges take ahead of the new regulations?

  • Ensure policies and procedures are up-to-date when dealing with statutory flexible working requests.

  • Remember that changes can still be dealt with informally (if the employee has not made a statutory request). This has become more commonplace in recent years.

  • Consider the impact on recruitment – flexible working will be a day one right so consider whether to advertise that the role can be performed flexibly. This may help to tackle recruitment issues faced by many schools.

  • Think generally whether flexible working could benefit your school or college, for example with recruitment and retention (attracting a wider, more diverse pool of applicants) and for staff wellbeing (which ties in with the government focus on mental health and wellbeing, including support packages, workload reduction and the education staff wellbeing charter).

What changes will be introduced?

  • Employees will no longer be required to be continuously employed for 26 weeks before requesting flexible working.

  • Employees won’t have to explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks their requested change would have on the employer and how any such effect might be dealt with.

  • Employees will now be entitled to make two requests in any 12-month period rather than one (only one request can be live at any one time)

  • Employers will not be permitted to refuse a request unless the employee has been consulted.

  • The time for an employer to make a decision will be reduced from three to two months (although it will remain open for the parties to agree a longer period).

How far-reaching are the changes?

  • Ultimately, the changes are relatively limited. Whilst employees can now make a statutory request from day one, there are still stipulations regarding the content of the written request and employers can still decline the request on one of eight business reasons (such as the inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff or a detrimental impact on quality or performance) 

  • The changes apply to statutory requests for flexible working, arrangements can still be agreed informally if employees do not make a statutory request.

Acas has produced a draft code of practice on flexible working requests for dealing with statutory requests for flexible working. The Code of Practice is currently in draft form for parliamentary approval. If approved, it is expected to come into force in April 2024.