Know your rights: Key legal issues for music teachers

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As COVID-19 restrictions ease once again, John Robinson, Head of Legal & Compliance at the ISM, highlights some key legal issues for music teachers.

Within the UK, few professions have faced more turbulence and uncertainty during COVID-19 than music teachers, who have had to endure constantly changing guidance and a frequent lack of clarity from national governments. As lockdowns and restrictions begin to relax, the ISM legal team has been looking ahead to potential issues down the line, especially with regard to employment and safety. We have highlighted several of our free resources that can help you to protect yourself and take control of your career.

Contracts

Whether you are teaching face to face or online, we strongly advise that you have a written contract for every pupil you bill directly, and with every school where you teach. This ensures your rights and obligations (and those of your pupils or their parents) are clearly set out and reduces the scope for later dispute.

If you are employed or engaged by a school or other educational establishment, in law, all visiting music teachers, like other employees, have the right to what is termed a ‘written statement of employment particulars’ from their employer. This must be provided by the employer on or before your starting date if you are starting a new job, and within one month of your making a request for particulars if you started your current job before 6 April 2020.

If you are self-employed and working with schools, we still recommend you have a written contract in place with the school as well as with the pupils’ parents. This is to protect you, and ensure that both your obligations and those of the school are set out clearly and are legally binding. Within this contract you would also specify the notice period for termination of the contract, adding an additional layer of protection.

Further information about contracts can be found in the ISM Teachers’ Pack, available to download at ism.org/teachers.

Know your employment status

With several music hubs and schools moving teachers from regular salaried employment contracts to zero-hours employment contracts and also to self-employed arrangements in response to COVID-19, it is incredibly important to know your status, and what rights and protections you have.

This area of employment law is complex, which makes it difficult to determine whether a person's employment status is as an employee, a worker or a self-employed contractor. The difficulty often lies in the fact that the contract itself may not accurately reflect a person's employment status, so each situation needs to be analysed on a case-by-case basis. The ultimate decision regarding employment status lies with the courts and the following cases are a small example of some court judgments in this area of law:

Scott v Chigwell School [2018] – a case about a visiting music teacher at a school which went to the Employment Tribunal. Pimlico Plumbers Ltd v Smith [2018] – the Supreme Court upheld the decision from the Court of Appeal that a plumber was a ‘worker’.

Uber BV and others v Aslam and others [2018] – this case subsequently proceeded to the Supreme Court and on 19 February 2021, the court issued a landmark judgment that Uber drivers are in fact ‘workers’ and thus are entitled to holiday pay and the minimum wage.

The ISM recommends that independent legal advice is obtained before signing any contracts, as soon as they have been received. ISM members should contact the ISM's legal team for advice.

Safeguarding

Protecting yourself and your students is always of paramount importance. For those continuing to work online, there are additional factors that you should take into consideration, including the issues surrounding making recordings and parental/guardian supervision. For further information, visit the ISM's advice page on Safeguarding for music teachers giving lessons remotely.

Risk assessments

COVID-19 continues to present a significant risk to you and your pupils, and it is important that you have an up-to-date risk assessment that shows how you will eliminate or minimise the risk of transmission when resuming face-to-face teaching.

For advice on how to write a risk assessment, including a webinar from risk expert James Owen Lewis, visit ism.org/risk-assessment.

Building for the future

On Saturday 24 April, the ISM is holding a free online conference for music professionals. It will be an inspiring day of music, professional development and practical advice. There will be a dedicated session focusing specifically on the current landscape for music teachers that will cover setting fees, recovering unpaid fees, safeguarding, approaches to online teaching, preparing pupils for online exams, and more. There is also an opportunity to learn more about our work and the benefits of joining the ISM.

For further information and to book your free place today, visit ism.org/future.

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