July 2021 edition: Staff Absence Protection: The Mutual Alternative


Staff Absence Protection: The Mutual Alternative

With increasing pressures on budgets, and staff absences increasing due to COVID, Nick Hurn discusses how we can support our schools with an ethical staff absence protection alternative, along with healthcare support for school staff.

Mutual societies have a long history. They have been described as the original social network for providing a safety net for thousands in sickness and old age. Today, mutuals are 9% of the insurance sector overall and Education Mutual is proud to be the only member-owned staff absence mutual in the UK. We pro-actively protect our member schools and Trusts against the financial consequences of staff absence.

The defining feature of all mutuals is that they are run for and by members, providing an ethical alternative to commercial services which are run to benefit shareholders. This is why I chose the mutual model when, as CEO of the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, I set out to create a better alternative for schools. One that was responsive to the changing needs and financial challenges of schools and of re-cycled much needed money back into services for education.

As a Trust leader, I had become increasingly frustrated with the insurance options available to protect our trust against staff absences, with increasing premiums and a reduction in service and cover. I recognised that above all what Trusts like mine required, was greater certainty around the budget for our most significant resource - our people. I also saw that our need for a service that provides the quick decisions, rapid payments, and consistent levels of support that we needed to keep our schools moving was unmet. My frustration was shared by CEO’s, Headteachers and Business Managers across the sector, leading us to create an alternative, sector owned solution in 2018.

Education Mutual not only made a huge difference to its founder members but has grown rapidly to provide an ethical alternative to traditional insurance to over 1,000 members in the education sector. Our members across the UK pay contributions to protect against accident and illness in their staff members. When absences occur, funds are paid back to members irrespective of whether supply staff are utilised. Our board, which comprises CEO Multi-academy Trust leaders, Headteachers and Business Managers, make decisions based upon a member’s best interests, rather than the profit-making focus of a private insurer.

The success of Education Mutual at the end of its first full year of operation, attracted the interest of the Department for Education, who were keen to support pooled funds within the education sector following the introduction of the Risk Protection Arrangement (RPA) in 2014. The DfE then looked to explore how the largest expenditure of a school budget – staff members - can be protected. Rather than create an RPA for staff absences, the DfE have supported Education Mutual in our school owned staff absence protection fund, with its endorsement of the Education Mutual Fund in 2020.

Our vision of schools supporting one another through a mutual for staff absence protection proved to be viable as a surplus of £500,000 was generated from 2019 memberships. Our members voted at the 2020 AGM to retain the £500,000 surplus to support one another through the pandemic, enabling additional claims to be paid and enhanced COVID cover to be introduced at a time when our members needed support the most.

As a Trust leader, I had become increasingly frustrated with the insurance options available to protect our trust against staff absences, with increasing premiums and a reduction in service and cover.

Nick Hurn

The financial support that we provide gives schools and trusts greater budget certainty. However, we now do much more than just help with supporting cover for vacancies when they arise. We are working to strengthen the sector by providing healthcare to our members to actively prevent and reduce absences.

The recently announced DfE Wellbeing Charter encourages schools to consider the mental health and wellbeing of school staff. We support this with healthcare in all memberships delivered at no additional cost. This includes mental health support in the form of counselling for individual staff members and first aid mental health training. First aid mental health training aids those in school to recognise mental health symptoms and to support one another. During the COVID-19 crisis we saw a 350% increase in the demand for mental health services. This trend continues as we support our schools throughout the current phase of the pandemic and into recovery. In this we are proud to aid the sector in coping with the mental health demands we face as a nation.

As a member focussed mutual, service delivery is a priority. Education Mutual consistently receives member praise for its exceptional customer service across a multitude of platforms. Our 2020 membership survey results demonstrate that our members can really feel the difference that a mutual delivers, with over 98% satisfied with their membership. Key to our fast and efficient service delivery for trusts is our bespoke, secure portal which allows trusts to combine central oversight and assurance, with the ability for local control and variance of cover in response to individual school needs.

Not only do our members experience a better level of service, more comprehensive cover and the opportunity to have a say in how all surpluses are reinvested for the benefit of the sector, but many trusts find too that our service offers signifiant fee savings against those of their previous providers. As we prepare for the new academic year in 2022/23 I look forward to seeing the Educational Mutual team help more trusts to join the mutual revolution.

Education Mutual is a CST Platinum Partner.

To discover how Education Mutual could help you, watch our webinar for CST members here, or contact the team via learnmore@educationmutual.co.uk or 01623 287840.