At the heart of the Valued Worker Scheme (VWS) is collaboration between employers and employees through their trade unions – the NASUWT for teaching staff and GMB, UNISON and Unite for support staff. Usually, the first steps to an employer joining the VWS will be a union representative(s) identifying an employer, be that an individual school, stand-alone academy, multi-academy trust or local authority, as a suitable candidate for the Scheme. However, employers can initiate the process either through their workplace representatives or with local/regional officers/officials.
Whatever the route, a conversation, usually through an initial meeting, should be arranged. This initial meeting should focus on the mutual benefits of the VWS, and to discuss the steps the employer will take to work towards the VWS principles. Employers are not expected to be fully compliant with the Scheme at the time of joining.
To join the Scheme, the employer should identify one of the principles that they will work towards over an agreed time period, usually one year, and agree with trade union representatives the objective(s) to be met, what activities will be undertaken and what success criteria will be applied. An initial objective may be, for example, to ensure that effective mechanisms for consultation and negotiation with trade unions are set up, if these do not already exist.
At the end of the agreed period, there should be a review, and if the objective has been met, the cycle should begin again with a different principle. Alongside this specific objective(s), any new policies or initiatives should be consistent with the principles, i.e. there should not be any detriment, and opportunities to work towards the principles should be utilised wherever possible. Once an employer has joined the VWS by following the steps above, the headquarters of the VWS unions should be notified. Although the VWS is open to all employers and maintained schools, it is not envisaged that a school that is part of a multi-academy trust would be able to join without its parent trust, given it is not an employer. However, each case should be examined on its individual merits.
Full compliance with the VWS principles is not required for an employer to join the Scheme. What is crucial is that employers commit to working towards the principles, and they demonstrate this through agreeing objective(s). It is therefore to be expected that policies and procedures, at least initially, may not conform to the principles. Issues will arise, however, where the objective(s) are not met, or where the employer acts in a way incompatible with the Scheme principles and/or jointly agreed policies/practices.
Objective(s) not met
There will be occasions where the objective(s) are not met, particularly if the employer has a challenging objective. Where an objective is not met, there should be a full joint discussion in order to ascertain the reasons why and to ensure that the objective can be met in future.
A more significant issue will be where a number of objectives are not met, particularly over successive years. If the objectives were challenging and the employer is continuing to move in the right direction, then this is not incompatible with the VWS. If, however, the employer is not making progress or, indeed, conditions are deteriorating, then a discussion with the employer will be required through the normal negotiation and consultation mechanism. Advice could also be sought from more senior officers or officials of the unions and ultimately it may be decided that an employer is not working in the spirit of the Scheme, and be asked to leave. They will then lose the right to use the VWS logo. In this case, it is also possible that relations between the employer and the staff may have deteriorated to such an extent that industrial action is a likely result.
Acting in a way incompatible with the Scheme
Although meeting the agreed objective(s) is a key part of the Scheme, the employer will also need to act in a way compatible with working towards the principles in its day-to-day activities. Again, it is not expected that this will be in place at day one, just that progress is being made, and if the objective(s) is being met then the day-to-day level of compliance should also improve.
If this is not the case, for example where an agreed policy is in place but the employer acts outwith the policy, then this should be discussed through the normal consultation and negotiation machinery.
A particular issue may arise where a multi-site employer, such as a multi-academy trust, joins the Scheme and acts in accordance with the Scheme principles, but individual headteacher(s) do not. In this case, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that all schools/sites are operating in such a way as to respect the Scheme principles. An employer would be expected to take the necessary action to bring the school into line with agreed policies and procedures. Membership of the VWS does not preclude taking action in a particular school where issues arise.
If the employer fails to make necessary progress, or fails to ensure all parts of the organisation are fully committed to the Scheme, then this should be discussed through the normal consultation and negotiation machinery.
If all four unions agree that the employer is not acting in a way compliant with the process, then the employer can be removed from the list.
In the NASUWT, it will usually be a Local Association Secretary that identifies an employer suitable for the VWS. The Local Secretary should then discuss this with their National Executive Member (NEM) to ensure they have no objections. The approach to the employer should then be discussed with local GMB, UNISON and Unite representatives. If agreement is reached, then the Scheme should either be placed on the agenda of an upcoming JCC (or equivalent), or a joint letter be sent from the unions. Once the employer has taken the necessary steps to join the Scheme, the NEM should then notify the National Union in order that the employer can be included on the list and the logo sent to the employer.
For UNISON, it will be a local branch or regional organising staff that identify an employer suitable for the VWS. The approach to the employer should then be discussed with local NASUWT, GMB and Unite representatives. If agreement is reached, then the Scheme should either be placed on the agenda of an upcoming JCC (or equivalent), or a joint letter be sent from the unions. Once the employer has taken the necessary steps to join the Scheme, the NEM should then notify the National Union in order that the employer can be included on the list and the logo sent to the employer.
For GMB a Branch or Regional Organiser can identify an employer as suitable for the VWS. The approach to the employer should then be discussed with local NASUWT, UNISON and Unite representatives. If agreement is reached, then the Scheme should either be placed on the agenda of an upcoming JCC (or equivalent), or a joint letter be sent from the unions. Once the employer has taken the necessary steps to join the Scheme, the region should then notify the National Officer in order that the employer can be included on the list and the logo sent to the employer.