Please read this advice alongside the NEU’s main FAQ advice for members which covers a range of general matters.

Consultation on changes to working practices 

What is happening in other independent schools and colleges?

Over 1,600 NEU members working in the independent sector have shared their experience of what is happening in their school or college. Click here to see the full results of the NEU Independent Sector Covid-19 Survey which closed 6th May 2020.

Should independent school staff have a say in changes affecting their working practice?

NEU believes that staff should be consulted on any proposed significant changes to working conditions. This is general good practice. It is a statutory right in schools and colleges where we a recognised trade union to collectively represent staff.  If we are not recognised in a particular independent school, we will still often be the staff's representative voice. As such, it is legitimate and appropriate for the NEU school rep to be part of strategic planning of any measures affecting staff working conditions.

Should consultation on TPS withdrawal in independent schools be discontinued?

The NEU says that consultation cannot be meaningful when a school is closed. If employers continue with this process, you should, collectively, make representations about freezing the process and if necessary, seek NEU support.  For further information, including a model letter, go to Protecting independent school teachers’ pensions.

Changes at work

My employer has proposed that all staff voluntarily take a pay cut of 15 per cent

NEU acknowledges that many schools are facing unprecedented challenges and difficulties as a result of the current emergency.  However, important variation to your terms and conditions should be the subject of very careful consideration and subject to negotiation. 

The NEU recommends that you do not agree to detrimental changes to your contract without union advice, full disclosure of information and only if satisfied that there is no alternative.  Members also need to consider that if the employer is proposing a drastic reduction to your remuneration, that it might be a sign that it is already too late. In which case, members will simply lose more money when it comes to calculating your redundancy pay which is based on your salary.  Independent schools should have contingency plans. They should have reserves. Government is offering unprecedented financial support to businesses to see them through this crisis. 

The NEU calls upon any employer making such proposals to negotiate with us in a full and frank discussion of the business’ finances, possible alternatives and strategic plan.

Our school says it is business as usual – only online

It is not business as usual. School leaders should not be trying to replicate every part of the normal school day, only worked from home. In an unprecedented world emergency this is not possible.  Many staff are managing their own young children’s education at home and/or caring for vulnerable parents. It is not reasonable to expect them to be available online at every moment when they would normally be having contact with students.  Teaching online is highly demanding and more complex than teaching face-to-face.  Amongst other things, additional time needs to be set aside for planning and preparation of new materials and new ways of working.  For more detailed advice, see the NEU guidance on distance learning.

Should we be forced to take the register?

NEU believe that the requirement to take registers while working from home should be rescinded. It this is neither required, nor efficient.  The DfE guidance says schools should not be taking registers unless it is for key-worker provision. 

We are worried by being required to provide live video interactive lessons

The NEU is concerned that some independent employers are instituting live interactive video lessons. We do not believe that they are appropriate. There are serious welfare issues for both staff and students.  For further information, see NEU guidance on distance learning.

My school has asked me to provide lesson activities for students during the holidays. They say that we need to compensate for the disruption to normal provision.

No one should be providing lesson activities for pupils during the holidays. The holiday periods are there for a reason. Students, teachers and support staff all need time to refresh and recuperate. This is particularly so at this stressful time. 

I am part of the support staff and usually work during school holidays. Can my employer ask me to take leave instead.

It is important that everyone takes leave and has periods of rest. The current restrictions are likely to last some time, so it is important to take leave in this period even if you can’t go away as usual.  However, unless there is provision in your contract for the employer to request that you take leave at certain times, then you should be able to choose when it is best for you to take leave.  The Government has announced that statutory leave can be carried forward to the next two years.  As always, you should take advice from the NEU, if necessary.

My school is proposing starting the summer term sometime in June and ending sometime in August. Is this reasonable?

The NEU has major practical and contractual concerns about the reasonableness.  It would be a major break with the practice of schooling in the UK. The individual school would be out of kilter with other schools, both state and independent. Amongst other things, it has implications for parents with children at different schools and for staff with children at other schools. It would potentially affect the ability of families to go on holiday together. It would impact on giving notice of termination of employment and the recruitment cycle. 

Many contracts of employment in the independent sector explicitly state that the employee is…not required to attend for work during the usual school holidays.  Contracts usually state the notice period in relation to specified terms and dates. A typical contract for a teacher in the independent sector states, Employment may be terminated upon giving at least one term’s notice to expire only on 31 December, 30 April, or 31 August.  There would then be the practical considerations of the knock-on effect for the next term and having sufficient rest and time to prepare.  There is also a major question as to whether parents and students would welcome such proposals.

Is it safe for my boarding school to re-open?

The NEU is particularly concerned by the enhanced exposure to potential risk for our members working in residential schools and colleges, for the pupils, and their families. 

Members should follow the advice on re-opening on the main pages for the relevant school phase, including the NEU checklists, in conjunction with the guidance issued by the Boarding School Association, including their charter and checklist.

The Scottish government has issued guidance for residential boarding/hostel accommodation in educational facilities which is a helpful point of reference.

The furlough scheme 

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - aka furlough leave - and does it apply to me?

The Job Retention Scheme protects the earnings of those who would otherwise be laid off during the current crisis. The scheme applies from 1 March 2020, is open for at least three months and may be extended. Employees must have been on the employer’s PAYE payroll on 19 March 2020, on any type of contract, including a zero-hour contract or a temporary contract. Employers can claim a grant from HMRC, capped at £2,500 per calendar month for each employee, to cover 80% of the wage costs of those who are not working but are kept on the payroll ("furloughed"). The NEU asks independent sector employers to top up the remaining 20%. We are pressing for the best protections for our members in independent schools.

I am working in an independent school that is partially open: does the furlough scheme apply to me?

If you are able to continue to work safely by working at school or from home, we encourage you to continue to do this. Your employer will not be able to access the scheme to claim for you while you are working, even if you are on reduced hours. While there is work for you to do, you are encouraged to continue working (safely).

I have already been dismissed from my school: can I access the furlough scheme?

If you were dismissed before 1 March, the scheme will not apply to you. HMRC advice is that the scheme can cover those laid off since then if they are rehired. The scheme relies on schools being willing to continue to rehire workers who have been let go.  Our advice to members who have been given notice of termination but who are still on the payroll, is to ask to be put onto furlough instead if there is no other work available to you.  If your contract has already been terminated and there is no alternative work available, we suggest that you ask to be re-engaged as a furlough worker. If your employment has already terminated by reason of redundancy, it is possible to be re-engaged and put on furlough leave, provided that your employment terminated on or after 1 March 2020.

Contact your NEU rep if you have one, get together with your fellow NEU members, contact the school, point them to the HMRC advice, ask them to rehire you and let us know by emailing NEU AdviceLine if your school refuses to rehire you or claims that it is not able to access the scheme.

I have been placed on unpaid leave: can I get furlough leave?

If you were placed on unpaid leave after 19 March 2020 and you are still employed, your employer could propose that you are put onto furlough leave instead.

My school has folded: will the furlough scheme apply to me?

Our understanding is that administrators will be able to access the furlough scheme. So, where an independent school was closed as a result of the pandemic after 19 March, administrators will have the option to place staff on furlough leave. There doesn’t appear to be any compulsion on employers to use the scheme, but if it is a viable business the administrators could be persuaded to retain staff on furlough leave.

Can my employer decide that my job comes under the furlough scheme without consulting me?

You should be consulted before being designated as a furloughed worker and agree to this. It should not happen without your knowledge. Any agreement should be recorded in writing.

What will happen if I agree to be furloughed?

the employer must submit information to HMRC through an online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required). A furloughed person retains all their existing contractual rights, other than terms relating to pay.  HMRC has advised that if an employee has more than one employer, they can be furloughed for each job.  We believe the scheme applies to all staff paid under the PAYE scheme who are laid off, or let go, because of the current crisis.

If I am furloughed, how long will it last?

The Government has advised that employees can be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks. Employers may submit a claim at least every three weeks. The Government has clarified that employees can be furloughed multiple times, but each separate instance must be for a minimum period of three consecutive weeks. The scheme is scheduled to last for three months and may be extended if necessary. If you are furloughed, you are encouraged to keep in touch with your employer and your NEU colleagues to keep up to date on issues involving your school

How will my earnings be calculated if I am furloughed?

If you have been employed (or engaged by an employment business) for a full twelve months prior to the claim, the employer can claim for the higher of either:

  • the same month’s earning from the previous year or
  • average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year

If you have been employed for less than a year, the employer/agency can claim for an average of monthly earnings since you started work.  If you only started in February 2020, the employer/agency can use a pro-rata for your earnings so far to claim.  If the purpose of the scheme is to maintain basic earnings, the actual earnings of all those under the PAYE scheme should be taken into account. This will ensure that workers on zero-hour contracts and other workers whose earnings fluctuate are not disadvantaged.

Will tax, National Insurance and pension contributions be deducted for furlough pay?

The Government guidance states that you’ll still pay Income Tax, National Insurance contributions and any other deductions from your wage.

If an employee is furloughed and then rightly refuses to undertake work what protection do they have from dismissal or detriment?

The furlough scheme is only available when there is no work for the individual. It cannot be used to support a reduction in hours.  If you have been furloughed and then asked to work, please contact the NEU Advice Line.

I don’t want to agree to being furloughed. What other options are there?

If you refuse, your employer may decide they have no choice but to make you redundant or dismiss for “some other substantial reason”.. If you are made redundant you would be entitled to redundancy pay. If your employment is dismissed for “some other substantial reason” you would only be entitled to contractual notice pay.

I'm an independent school teacher in the TPS. If I am furloughed what happens to my pension?

Furloughed teachers will stay in the TPS as active members during the furlough period.  Pensionable salary for members in the career average scheme will be based on the government's furlough scale (80 per cent of salary up to £2500 a month). Furloughed teachers will receive the CPI + 1.6 per cent indexation of built up pension in the career average scheme.

Career average members on furlough will suffer a loss as the eventual pension is based on pensionable salary received.  Teachers in the final salary scheme will also suffer a loss as less service will be credited during the furlough period. For more information see the Teachers' Pensions website

I have been given 24 hours to agree to furlough. What should I do?

Furloughing is a contractual variation which should be agreed, not imposed. Among other things, you need assurances that your employer is guaranteeing full pay and pension contributions.  If you are given inadequate notice, such as 24 hours’ notice, to take advice and properly consider your response, you should consider signing to protect your job but make clear in writing that you have done so under duress, having had insufficient time to consider your legal options.  Speak to your NEU school representative. Contact the NEU adviceline.

I was furloughed but I have since returned to work. My employer says that I will be furloughed again over the school summer holidays. Is this correct?

The NEU believes that you should be paid as normal over the school summer holidays, as you will not be working because of the usual contractual arrangements and not because of Coronavirus.

Is the CJRS changing?

The CJRS is changing in two ways.

  1. From 1 July the scheme enables flexibility so that the worker can partially work, and the rest of the time be furloughed. For example, if your contracted hours are 35 per week, you can work 20 hours and be furloughed for remaining 15 hours.
  2. From 1 August employers will be required to contribute to furlough payments.

In August employers will have to pay the employer’s national insurance contributions (ENICs) and pension contributions.

From 1 September employers will pay 10% of furlough payments, ENICs and pension contributions.

In October employers will pay 20% of furlough payments, ENICs and pension contributions.

The Scheme will end on 31 October 2020.

What next

What will happen next?

The NEU is continuing to press the Government to safeguard teacher and support staff jobs in the independent sector.  The NEU is liaising with employer bodies, including the Independent Schools Council and Independent School Bursars’ Association. Information provided by the Independent Schools’ Council available to the public can be found here.  The ISBA and Crowe paper Schools: Coping with the financial effects of COVID-19.  The Boarding School Association Coronavirus update.

I’d like to be in contact with other reps in independent schools to know what approach is being taken there.

With consent of those involved, the NEU can put you in contact with other reps.  Some areas have NEU WhatsApp groups that you can join.  Other contact or activities might be being arranged by your regional rep on the NEU National Council independent sector.