Winter weather and school closures: some legal perspectives

Guidance on what to do when your teaching is cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.

Teachers paid by the school

What is in the employed teacher’s contract? If payment of wages is determined by the number of hours taught, it can be argued that the teacher would not be entitled to be paid for the time when they did not teach (albeit that it was through no fault of their own), because neither the teacher nor the pupil were available to enable the contract to be performed. The same is true for self-employed teachers paid by the school.

What about a teacher who is an employee, is paid an annual salary to carry out a number of tasks and duties, such as a classroom teacher, and who is available and willing to work? Arguably this teacher should be paid for the closure, because they were ready and willing to attend work. But in the absence of a general legal rule, other factors such as whether there is a policy in place regarding payment in such circumstances (and what has occurred in previous similar circumstances) should be factored in.

As a matter of fairness, it seems reasonable to argue that visiting music teachers should not be treated less favourably where the school pays all other employed staff for closure days, although the legal position will depend upon the circumstances of each case and the terms of the contract.

ISM members needing advice can contact our legal team for help.

Teachers paid directly by parents

For teachers contracting directly with the parents of their pupils, the position is more difficult. Both teacher and parents can be regarded as ‘innocent parties’, because they would have had no control over the decision to close the school. The ISM’s Agreement for Private Music Tuition states that ‘the teacher will charge for any scheduled lessons which the pupil does not attend, unless the teacher chooses not to do so because of exceptional circumstances’.

Our view is that it would usually be unreasonable for a teacher to charge for a lesson where neither the teacher nor the pupil was able to attend because of the closure of a school. Such circumstances can be regarded as genuinely ‘exceptional’.

An unplanned closure may result in a loss of earnings to the teacher, and there may be grounds to sue the school, although we think the courts would be reluctant to find against a school considered to have acted reasonably in the circumstances. On the other hand, if a teacher has paid advance fees to use a room at the school but cannot use the space because the school is closed, it would seem reasonable to request reimbursement of the fees.

ISM members facing any of these situations can get advice from our legal team at [email protected].