NI Schools’ Legal Update 2022

NI Schools’ Legal Update 2022

This event is brought to you in assocation with ASCL.

It is generally agreed that the teaching profession is becoming a more difficult job year on year. Problems with the behaviour of pupils, rising expectations of parents and increased class sizes and budget cuts have all combined to often produce a marked deterioration in a Principal’s working life experience. None of that has been made any easier as a result of the pandemic.

Employment of staff, regardless of home-working, home-schooling or hybrid provision is governed by laws that continually change. The running of schools is also governed by laws and standards that change.

This event brings together the top lawyers working in education,
together with other experts in employment law in order to update school principals in Northern Ireland.

Why is this event important for YOU?

School budgets are tight enough as it is, but court decisions on annual leave, holiday pay and the recording of working time in recent months have brought an existential threat to school budgets, as well as others outside the education sector.

In addition to this major issue, do you know the law on when you are allowed to contact absent staff? Do you know the law on recording (covert or overt) of meetings? What does a sabbatical do to a teacher's employment status? How far must you go to allow flexibility in schools?

Also – do you know how to conduct a watertight workplace investigation into alleged wrongdoing by a teacher?

After attending you will know the answers to the above questions and more, but you will also…

  • Know the guidance on how to sensitively handle issues surrounding transgender students.
  • Have received practical options to consider for flexible working policies and fixed term contracts in your school.
  • Have had ample time to explore challenging issues with our experts and your peers.
  • Have been so engaged, you'll want to come back the following year for our 2023 round-up of developments!
  • Have received recordings of all sessions to allow for staff training and your own revision until the start of the next academic year.

Course overview/outline programme

We have sessions on employment law developments that you need to know about and three sessions on essential equality issues in schools.

Morning Sessions:

  • The NI Schools' Employment Law Update, including working time and holiday pay developments that have a direct application in NI schools.
  • A Practical Guide to Workplace Investigations in Schools
  • When is the Right Time to Contact Absent Staff?

Afternoon sessions:

  • Equality Issues 1 – Managing Staff with Long Covid
  • Equality Issues 2 – Fixed Term and Flexible Working in NI Schools
  • Equality Issues 3 – Guidance for Schools on Supporting Transgender Young People

Who is it for?
This practical seminar will be particularly valuable to School, Principals and Vice Principals and other school leaders, including teacher union representatives.

When and where?
This event will take place online on the NewRow platform on Wednesday 23 February 2022 between 9:15am and 3.30pm. All sessions will be recorded and available to view once the event has ended.

Early Bird Rate: £195+VAT (deadline 5pm on Friday 28 January 2022)
Standard Rate: £245+VAT

About the digital platform

This event will be hosted on a Browser based platform named Newrow. In order to access the event correctly, you will need to use the Google Chrome browser. This is the only browser that will work, please do not use Internet Explorer, MS Edge or Mozilla Firefox. We understand that some IT policies may not allow downloading of new browsers, so if this is the case for you please use your own personal device to access the event and if you do not have Google Chrome installed, you can download it here - or on the Google Play/App Store for tablets and iPads.

If you would like further information regarding your Browser please contact us at and we will be happy to discuss with you further.

Upon entering the event Newrow will prompt you to enter only your full name and email address, there is no need to register a password.

In association with:






Get to Know Us: Familiarise yourself with the functions of our online event to ensure you maximise return on your investment. Scott Alexander, Head of Learning & Development, Legal Island, welcomes delegates to our 2022 event.


Welcome and Introduction: Robert Wilson, Regional Officer Northern Ireland, ASCL

NOTE: all the following sessions are being recorded and delegates will be sent links after the event for all recordings, which can be viewed until the end of the academic year and used for revision or staff training purposes.


The NI Schools' Employment Law Update

 The period from lockdown to now has seen the development of many new laws relating to employment, mainly through case law decisions of the higher courts, including the Supreme Court and the NI Court of Appeal. Find out the latest developments relating to:

• When is it not a disciplinary offence for employees to covertly record meetings? When is it an offence for employees to covertly record meetings?

• What does the latest ruling from the ECJ about recording all employees’ daily hours mean for you?

• What might the NI Court of Appeal's ruling on including average overtime in holiday pay cost your school, bearing in mind claims may go back to 1998?

• The England & Wales Court of Appeal ruled that holiday entitlement for term-time employees should not be pro-rated. Which of your employees are affected and what additional costs do you face?

Sabbaticals and secondments - What should an agreement say about an employee’s employment status, annual leave, redundancy, family leave, and return to work? And why do many sabbaticals and secondments end in conflict?

• Fair audit trail – Why might a DSAR (data subject access request) expose you to unnecessary risk when handling grievances and disciplinary issues?

• L v K [2021] CSIH 35 Justification for dismissal - allegations of indecent images of children

Seamus McGranaghan, Director, O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors provides detailed notes and a checklist of recommendations to help keep you up to date and out of tribunal.

This session includes 15 minutes for Q&A.

NOTE: This session will consist of what our speaker considers to be the most important developments in employment law relevant to school leaders at February 2022 and may differ from the above topics.


Break: Time to take a break from the screen and get some refreshments


A Practical Guide to Workplace Investigations in Schools.

It is an absolute requirement of law that employers need to conduct a fair and reasonable investigation into alleged misconduct if any subsequent dismissal is to stand any chance of being deemed fair by a tribunal. Christine Swail of People Management Solutions explains her step-by-step best practice guide, which includes template terms of reference, and precedent wording on how to phrase allegations in ‘step one’ letters inviting employees to a disciplinary hearing under the statutory dismissal procedures.

This session includes 10 minutes for Q&A.


Comfort Break


How Soon is Now? When is the Right Time to Contact Absent Staff?

2020 was a challenging year for many reasons (2021 has been different but just as challenging, possibly more so) and it has a big impact of staff absences, whether because of C-19 illness or self-isolation.Most of us will be ill at some point in our lives, regardless of pandemics. That means that most of your staff will be ill at some point in their lives. If that time comes during their working life:

  • When is it OK for an employer to contact them about their continuing absence?
  • Is it lawful to contact sick employees at home, either by telephone or in person?
  • Can you expect them to answer emails to their personal accounts?
  • When can you refer them to occupational health?
  • Can you lawfully contact their GP?
  • How long do you have to wait until termination of employment becomes a safe option?
  • What if staff are disabled – does that limit your options?
  • What are the rights of the non-absent colleagues who have to cover?
  • What information can you lawfully provide to non-absent colleagues?
  • How have Covid-19 rules impacted on an employer’s rights? (NOTE: we will be looking into managing long covid in greater detail after lunch)

Orlagh O’Neill, Partner, Carson McDowell explains the law in Northern Ireland relating to absence and its applicability within the school sector.

This session includes 10 minutes for Q&A.


Networking & Lunch


Equality Issues 1:Managing Long Covid in Schools

 The Department of Education and the Education Authority are preparing guidance for schools on managing long covid among their workforces. That guidance should be available by the time of our conference in February 2022. Regardless of the official guidance, there are many practical and legal matters that arise when staff have long covid, particularly when the symptoms meet the definition of a disability. ASCL lawyer, Lauren Hilton, sets out her practical advice to principals for managing cases of long covid in schools. Notes include a checklist of considerations.


Comfort Break


Equality Issues 2: Recruitment and Retention – the Need for Fixed Term and Flexible Contracts

Fixed term contracts can be useful for recruitment. However, fixed term contracts (FTCs) come with many hidden dangers, including equality issues, and there have been myriad important employment cases that have tripped up well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) employers. And, of course, schools have the added danger of some terminations outside specific time limits within the academic year being unlawful. On the other hand, schools are under increasing pressure to provide flexible working – another equality-related legal issue – in order to recruit and retain staff. It not only affects the ability of teachers (particularly those with dependents) to teach, it is also linked to better mental health. In part one of this session, Paul Upson, Associate Director, Napier Solicitors discusses the laws on using FTCs and flexible working in contracts and how best to keep on the right side of the law.

In part two, we ask a school principal well-known to most of our audience to give us an insight into her own experiences of dealing with requests for flexible working. 2020 brought flexible working and WFH for almost all of us. So, if (as the evidence suggests) flexible working is so good for employees and schools are struggling to attract and retain employees with specific skills, how can schools provide greater flexibility within a timetabled environment? Miss Janet Williamson, Principal, The Royal Belfast Academical Institution, sets out her thoughts and practical suggestions on flexible working pre- and post-lockdown.


Comfort Break


Equality Issues 3: Guidance for Schools on Supporting Transgender Young People

The Education Authority has developed non-statutory guidance for staff in schools and other educational settings on how to support transgender young people. The guidance does not recommend a ‘one size fits all’ approach but is designed to help staff in making justifiable decisions with regard to the support of transgender young people, including assessing any impact of those decisions on other pupils. Adam Brett, Partner, Lewis Silkin NI LLP sets out the legal framework on transgender issues in schools and the status of the Guidance.


Thanks and Close: Robert Wilson, Regional Officer Northern Ireland, ASCL


"Well prepared, well delivered, well resourced, well presented. The contributors were knowledgeable but ensured that the delivery style and content was accessible."
Graham Montgomery, Headmaster, Royal School, Armagh

"Very clear and useful information, both verbal and written. I hope I don't encounter all these potential problems but feel better equipped to deal with them should that day come."
Vivien Moorhouse, Principal, Leaney Primary School

"Very appropriate content."
Sean Sloan, Principal, Abbey CBS Newry

"Excellent speakers and information topical and well delivered."
Roisin Bell, Employment Relations Manager, Labour Relations Agency

"The information was concise, relevant and well -presented. the organisation by ASCL and LI was very good."
David Carruthers, Headmaster, Coleraine Grammar School

"I liked the expertise of the presenters - I certainly learnt a great deal; covered relevant areas."
Chris Peel, Headmaster, Sullivan Upper School


  • Scott Alexander
    Scott Alexander Head of Learning and Development
    Legal Island

    Scott Alexander joined the CIPD in 1987 and is a certified member of the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland and a member of the Association for Coaching Ireland. Scott was appointed as a member of the Governing Body of Southern Regional College from 1 August 2015. Scott is also a mentor under the CO3 Mentoring Programme for chief officers in the 3rd sector and an HR Committee member for the Bruiser Touring Theatre Company. Scott has over 30 years’ experience in employment relations and employment law. He worked for the Labour Relations Agency in Northern Ireland for 14 years in a variety of roles, including collective and individual conciliation and enquiry point manager, before joining Legal Island as its Head of Learning and Development in January 2006.

  • Robert Wilson
    Robert Wilson Regional Officer
    Northern Ireland Association of School and College Leaders

    Robert Wilson has been part time Regional Officer with ASCL since 2016. Prior to this he was principal of Limavady Grammar School. During his time as principal, Robert sat on the QUB Headteachers' Focus Group and represented ASCL NI on the UCAS Council. He had previous senior leadership experience as a Senior Teacher in Coleraine High School and as Vice Principal of Cambridge House Grammar School, including a period as Acting Principal.  He has served as an Associate Assessor with ETI and as an Associate with CSSC.

  • Seamus McGranaghan
    Seamus McGranaghan Director - Commercial
    O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

    Seamus McGranaghan qualified as a Solicitor in O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors in 2003 and is an experienced Commercial Lawyer dealing with employment, commercial and education cases.

    He has experience in the Industrial Tribunal representing both Claimants and Respondents and has provided seminars in relation to particular areas of employment law. Seamus is the only member of the Education and Law Association in Northern Ireland. He specialises in advising schools and colleges on policy matters, employment issues and student welfare. He is also responsible for the Education Law Quarterly Review.

  • Christine Swail
    Christine Swail Director & Co-Founder
    People Management Solutions

    Christine is Director and Co-Founder of People Management Solutions, an award winning HR Consultancy with offices in Belfast and Dungannon. Christine works with small to medium sized organisations putting best practice HR in place as well as working with larger multi-nationals on specific HR projects and complex workplace disputes.  Christine has worked in HR throughout Ireland for over 25 years with some of the leading and most innovative companies. Key areas of expertise include workplace investigations, mediation, employee relations and HR related training. Christine was recently awarded the CIPD NI HR Consultant of the Year award.

  • Orlagh O'Neill
    Orlagh O'Neill Partner
    Carson McDowell

    Orlagh O'Neill is a Partner and Head of the Employment Team at Carson McDowell Solicitors in Belfast. She advises mainly employer clients on a wide range of employment issues and acts for some of Northern Ireland's largest employers. Her education clients include universities, regional colleges and a number of voluntary grammars. This year Chambers and Partners Guide to the Legal Profession ranked Orlagh as Band One for Education. She is a committee member and Chair of the Employment Lawyers Group of Northern Ireland, a member of both the UK and Irish Employment Law Groups (ELA and ELAI) and a regular speaker at annual employment law update conferences.

  • Lauren Hilton
    Lauren Hilton In-house Employment Solicitor
    Association of School and College Leaders

    Lauren Hilton is an in-house Employment Solicitor at ASCL who advises members of the association in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. She primarily assists individuals from school senior leadership teams with their personal employment law issues, employment tribunal claims and supporting those facing professional disciplinary proceedings by their respective education regulators. Prior to joining ASCL, Lauren trained at a regional law firm working with large companies, colleges and universities and their respective HR departments offering full employment law services and advice on managing their workforce. 

  • Paul Upson
    Paul Upson Associate Director
    Napier Solicitors

    Paul Upson is an Associate Director with employment and education law specialists, Napier Solicitors.

    Paul studied law at Queen’s University and before joining Napier Solicitors he gained over 15 years post qualification experience as an employment solicitor at a major national law firm. He has worked with clients in a wide variety of employment sectors, including schools, further education colleges and universities.

  • Janet Williamson
    Janet Williamson Principal
    Royal Belfast Academical Institution

    Janet Williamson is the current Principal at The Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI).  Previous roles include Principal at Antrim Grammar School; Deputy Head, Wilson’s School, Surrey; teaching posts at Aylesbury Boys Grammar School, Buckinghamshire, Gosford Hall, Oxfordshire, Statistics tutor, Oxford University.

  • Adam Brett
    Adam Brett Partner
    Lewis Silkin NI LLP

    Adam Brett is a Partner in Lewis Silkin NI LLP. For many years Adam jointly headed the litigation department of a major Belfast Commercial Practice, and for the last 20 years he has concentrated increasingly on employment and discrimination matters. Adam has throughout his career advised a wide range of educational and charitable bodies, including Schools, Universities, Colleges, and other educational institutions in relation to employment, student and other concerns.


Early Bird Offer

Save up to £50

Event details


9.15am - 3.30pm


23 February 2022


Online - Newrow


Early Bird Rate: £195+VAT (deadline 5pm on Friday 28 January 2022)
Standard Rate: £245+VAT