DfE staff ‘offered 80:20’ hybrid working as default

Pledge follows last month’s orders to return to pre-pandemic working patterns “immediately”

By Jim Dunton

05 May 2022

Officials at the Department for Education have been told they are expected to spend four days a week in the office with a pledge that moving to a 60:40 arrangement should not be difficult, the civil service’s biggest union has said.

PCS said the offer was set out by “senior leaders” at DfE yesterday, following the “drastic change” in hybrid-working arrangements at the department last month.

Two weeks ago, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi told staff to return to pre-pandemic working arrangements “immediately” after internal figures were published showing that just 25% of officials at the department had been working from the department's Whitehall office on any given day in the first week of April.

On Tuesday this week, around 200 members of PCS at the department met with the union’s negotiators to discuss the impact of DfE’s back-to-office drive. It said those issues – including the availability of adequate office space, a lack of justification for the push, and the impact of the changes on staff with caring responsibilities – were raised with management on Wednesday.  

“They sought to offer us assurances that there was flexibility within the process,” the union said in a statement after the meeting.  

“As PCS understand it, these flexibilities are: 80% office working is the beginning of the conversation, however, staff can go down to 60% following a discussion with their line manager. This should be easy to achieve and shouldn’t require lots of supporting evidence, just a discussion over whether the job can be done 60% in the office, rather than 80%.”

PCS said it had been told that agreeing an arrangement of less than 60% office-based working – fewer than three days a week at a designated workplace – required a discussion with the relevant line manager, but was possible.

“Managers have the discretion to agree alternative working arrangements below 60% office requirements, as they always have,” the union said.

“DfE senior leaders were confident that alternative arrangements could be agreed.”

However PCS said the assurances provided by management were at odds with the experience of some staff. It urged members who had followed the approaches set out by the department to share their experiences if their hybrid-working request had been refused.

Civil Service World sought a DfE response to PCS’s statement on the department’s hybrid working offer. It had not provided one at the time of publication.

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