As educational leaders, the NEU recognises the vitally important part you play in successful educational provision and delivery to all learners in these very challenging times.  The pandemic has forced all educational stakeholders to rethink many aspects of the education system and we know that has created additional workload for leaders who are already over stretched.   

Leadership of your school or college is, of course, only one element of your role.  You are a leader within the wider community as well, able to help influence the understanding, views and aspirations of that community, especially during this pandemic.  As an organisation committed to extending educational opportunity and promoting social justice, the National Education Union wants to work alongside leadership members in that role. 

That is why your own health and well-being should not be overlooked and a proactive consciousness needs to be acknowledged when managing your own workload and by those who support and have a duty of care towards you; governors, chairs of trustees and employers. 

It is all too easy in your efforts to protect staff, pupils/students and the wider community to overlook your own health and wellbeing. Having that conversation sooner rather than later enables those that support you to exercise their ‘duty of care’. 

  • Don’t be afraid to say no when justified – protect your right to family life and getting proper breaks for rest and recuperation.  
  • Ensure your staff also take breaks by modelling it yourself.
  • Be confident in doing right by your staff teams and pupils/students in this pandemic.
  • Don’t be pressured into making poor decisions based on factors other than safety, health and well-being. 
  • Contact your local branch secretary or advice line for support (contact details are on your membership card)
  • Feedback to your union via the branch secretary, executive member or National Leadership Council representative (contact your regional office for details, available on the NEU website) with valuable and current information of your experiences  as an educational leader during this time
  • Share examples of how you have met the challenges so that other leaders can learn from your experiences. The union welcomes this feedback to help formulate advice rooted in your lived experience. 
  • Networking with other leaders can be supportive in sharing problems and solutions.
  • When the day to day pressures become too great and lead to stress, make use of support such as counselling which may be provided through your employer or the Education Support Partnership
  • Praise your staff often for their hard work and yourself for going the extra mile that you do every day
  • Remember to be kind to yourself as a leader of people. 

At a challenging time which is creating such excessive workload, the seven Nolan Principles for Public Life provide a good starting point for ethical conduct by leaders: accountability, honesty, integrity, leadership, objectivity, openness, and selflessness.

Below are useful links to NEU workload advice and some Q&A advice which the NEU has provided to the general membership which will also be useful to you as a leader. By implementing this advice for your staff, you may also be able to reduce your own workload during this pandemic. You will also find the NEU’s Framework for Ethical Leadership useful in offering further prompts to you in managing your own workload and that of others.

As a leader, you will often have to make judgment calls in the day to day running of your school or college which could be outside your sphere of experience or knowledge.  The union recognises that being a leader can be a lonely role and bears a heavy responsibility.  Use your NEU leadership networks and where they don’t exist contact your branch or regional office to start a conversation about the setting up a local network.  The answer will be out there. Talking and sharing best practice and experiences will help support you in this difficult time.  The NEU National Official for Leadership members can also assist in this endeavour and can be contacted on  

Useful links

NEU Framework for ethical leadership
NEU advice on workload & directed time
NEU workload reduction toolkit


Should learning walks be taking place?

No. The NEU position is that these should not be taking place when staff are already under immense pressure because of Covid19 and dealing with new ways of working.  Learning walks are not part of the appraisal cycle and create unnecessary workload for senior leaders and staff.  With all schools adopting Covid19 health and safety measures and using bubbles, learning walks cannot currently be undertaken safely during Covid19 and therefore should not be taking place.  The NEU is encouraging all schools not to add to staff workload unnecessarily.

Can any teacher be required to undertake mid-day supervision?

Schools are under lots of pressure at the moment due to Covid19 and may try to implement or impose working practices to cope with the current climate that normally would not be considered.  However, the NEU position remains that no teacher should be required to undertake mid-day supervision.  No teacher can be required to do this under their STPCD contract of employment as a teacher.

Is there a right to a lunch break?

Yes.  The NEU understands that employers are having to implement new ways of working due to Covid19.  However, this does not mean that staff should be treated differently or detrimentally. Leadership group teachers are entitled to a break of ‘reasonable length’, as close to the middle of the school day as is reasonably practical. Any teacher who works for more than one school session on any school day must be given a break of ‘reasonable length’ between sessions or between the hours of 12 noon and 2pm. Teachers cannot be required to attend management-convened meetings during their lunch break.

Are all teachers still entitled to planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time during Covid19 and, if so, how is the entitlement calculated?

The minimum entitlement to PPA time must be maintained even during Covid19. All teachers who teach pupils are entitled to PPA time, set as a minimum of ten per cent of their timetabled teaching time. Some will have more than ten per cent, and the union supports PPA time of 20 per cent.  It must take place during the time in which pupils are taught. It must not be used for cover and teachers cannot be directed to undertake specific activities during this time.

Should teachers be taking books home to mark?

Arrangements should be in place for limiting the handling of pupil work by staff, including amended arrangements for submitting work online in preference to physical paper and books, with subsequent changes in arrangements for marking.

If this is not possible it is the NEU’s view that exercise books should be treated in the same way that other books are being treated by public libraries and bookshops; in the absence of a universally accepted scientific position. Most libraries and bookshops say they intend to quarantine any book handled by a member of the public for 72 hours. Therefore, we believe exercise books should be quarantined for a period of 72 hours before they are marked by the staff member (whether in school or at home) or returned to the pupil. If this is impossible to achieve then quarantining should be for a minimum of 48 hours. 

The NEU believes that this is particularly important in secondary schools where bubbles can consist of a large number of pupils and staff are able to move between bubbles.

Do teachers have to cover for absent colleagues?

Teachers can only be required to cover ‘rarely’, even during the Covid19 pandemic. “Rarely” means in circumstances which were not foreseeable.  We have been dealing with the Covid19 pandemic since March, so a colleague’s absence on sick leave due to Covid19 is not a good enough reason for requiring a teacher to provide regular or sustained cover.  Schools should by now, have plans in place to appropriately deal with absence due to Covid19 and should be avoiding asking staff to regularly cover absences due to colleagues who are self-isolating or under quarantine.

Should Staff meetings be taking place in person?

To keep workload manageable, staff meetings should only be taking place when absolutely necessary.  Staff meetings should not be held in person but organised using virtual technologies to prevent the potential spread of Covid19. 

Should Parents Evenings be taking place during the covid-19 pandemic?

NEU position remains that the coming together of large groups of adults in schools, for example staff meetings, parent meetings, open days, should be suspended.

The safest approach available to schools is to postpone any such events to a time when they can be accommodated safely. Otherwise, it is recommended that tele-conference or videoconference be used for parent-teacher meetings or staff meetings in schools. When face to face meetings are required, the current public health advice on social distancing must be followed.

Any alternative arrangements should not result in teachers having to spend additional admin time booking parents, many schools now buy into services which allow for parents to book meetings online with minimal interaction with school staff.  Parent meetings should be scheduled in, as is normal practice, and be counted towards a teacher’s directed time

My school has adopted a staggered start and finish time as part of our health and safety measures, how should will this affect working time?

Staff arriving in school earlier or later to accommodate staggered starting and finishing times should have clear starting and finishing times and not be expected to remain in school late if they have started earlier or start earlier if they are due to finish later.  Teachers are still subject to Directed Time and legally teachers cannot be directed to work on more than 195 days a year or for more than 1,265 hours of directed time a year (for part-time teachers, pro rata arrangements apply.) This has not changed due to the current situation. NEU general advice on working time is available here.