Please note that the government plans to fully reopen schools to all pupils as normal in September 2020.  A joint union checklist and guidance on September reopening is now available.

NEU advice to members will be regularly updated as matters develop.

The NEU has established a Hardship Fund to provide financial assistance to members facing financial difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Find our more on Hardship Fund.

Where to find Government and NHS advice

The latest NHS advice on Coronavirus and the DFE guidance about the Coronavirus for educational settings are both being updated regularly. The NEU advises all members and all school leaders to read and follow the latest advice but reserves the right to give our own different advice if we disagree with the DfE’s advice on any matter. In Wales, read the advice from Public Health Wales and the Wales Government.  In Northern Ireland, read the advice from the  Northern Ireland Department of Education, Education Authority and the Public Health Agency. In Scotland, refer to the Education Institute of Scotland website in line with our partnership arrangement with EIS.


Our frequently asked questions below cover:

See also the NEU checklists for primary schools and early years, for secondary schools and colleges and for special schools and PRUs.

Some of this advice will change when schools reopen in September.  Specific guidance and a checklist on September reopening is available.

Wider opening  

What is the current position on school opening?

The Government has said that schools and colleges across the UK can start to open for certain age groups in primary and early years and, from 15 June, in secondary and post-16. For the NEU advice on the wider reopening of schools and colleges, see below.  

What is the NEU position on wider opening and where can I find the NEU's advice?

The NEU wants wider school reopening to begin as soon as it is safe to do so.  Given that even a partial return will increase risks to our members and the children in their care, however, the NEU has set five tests for Government before schools can open more widely. Each school must also individually be safe.  The NEU, together with GMB, Unison & Unite, has created joint checklists for primary schools, for secondary schools and for special schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) to help you in decide when wider opening is safe in your particular school.  These checklists are based on current Government and public advice and are intended to help ensure that employers meet their duties to assess and remove or control risks.

What discussion needs to take place before decisions are taken on wider opening?

The NEU checklists for primary schools, for secondary schools and for special schools and PRUs will assist you in discussing plans for wider opening with your employer as soon as it is safe to do so, and agreeing a plan to ensure compliance with the checklist before any date for wider opening is set.  As the science develops, they will be kept under review and may be revised.

Can schools reopen if they want?

Schools and colleges have been told they can consider opening more widely for other students subject to conditions being met.  The NEU believes that this would be disruptive to existing planning for safe wider opening and for provision in the summer and the next academic year.

Will I have to work during the summer holidays?

The NEU opposes the suggestion that members should be asked to work during the summer holidays.  Everyone is entitled to their break and the Government has said that it will not be asking schools and colleges to open during the summer.  You cannot be required to work during the summer holidays unless your contract provides for this. Teachers employed on School Teachers Pay & Conditions Document (STPCD) terms – all those in LA maintained schools and most in academies - will already have worked the maximum days for which they can be directed to work between 1 September and 31 August. Support staff employed on a “term time only” basis are not employed to work at all outside school terms. The NEU does not expect other teachers and support staff to be asked to work during the summer holidays when they do not normally do so.  See our advice on workload and working time.

The NEU is asking the government to fund a summer holiday offer to children and young people led by local authorities. NEU members may be willing to offer to take part in delivering this – but that will be entirely voluntary and subject to separate arrangement for contracts and payment.

What is the NEU advice on social distancing and wider opening?

Given that the science does not yet show that children do not transmit the virus, the NEU believes that schools must maintain social distancing in classrooms and around the school. The number of pupils in each class must allow social distancing of 2 metres between pupils and between pupils and school staff. In most classrooms this will mean fewer than 15 children present at one time.  It is for school leaders to make this decision, to keep their staff, their pupils, their families and their communities, safe.

How many staff should be in school?

Only staff working directly with students or who are key to opening and cleaning should be on site. Staff should not be asked to be on site if they are not looking after pupils. They should not be asked to attend full staff meetings or other unnecessary things which increase the risk of exposure to the virus. 

We expect arrangements such as rota systems to be implemented where necessary for those staff who are in school, complying with the Government direction that staff and students who can be at home should be at home. 

Who should not be in school?

The Government says that all people with serious health conditions that make them extremely vulnerable (the “shielding” category) must not attend work.  The DfE advice on social distancing goes further and says that anyone with conditions putting them at increased risk of serious illness, including those who are pregnant, should continue to work from home where possible and schools should endeavour to support this.

The NEU advises that anyone in a vulnerable or extremely vulnerable category should continue to work from home. The NEU also advises that anyone living with or caring for someone in a vulnerable or extremely vulnerable category should not be expected to run the risk of bringing the virus home from work. Given the way in which schools are currently operating, such staff should also be able to choose to work from home.

You should inform your head teacher that you will not attend school but are available to work from home.  We expect head teachers to accept your concerns and you can seek support from the NEU locally if necessary.

Assessments should be carried out for all staff individually and should also consider whether they are in groups also known to be at higher risk, including on the basis of age, ethnicity and sex.

The NEU does not advise you to stay away from work in other circumstances simply to avoid contact with others as you may find that your employer treats your absence as unauthorised.

What about vulnerable staff?

The NEU continues to advise that staff who are themselves clinically vulnerable or who live with or care for household members who are clinically vulnerable should not be asked to go into school.  Protection of the vulnerable is part of the NEU’s five tests for Government before schools can reopen that need to be met before schools can reopen.

What about Black staff?

The NEU is deeply concerned by the emerging data about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the Black population.  Black staff with underlying health conditions themselves or in their families should not be asked to go into school and should continue to work from home.  Protection of the vulnerable is part of the NEU’s five tests for Government before schools can re-open that need to be met before schools can reopen. Further NEU information on racial disparities in Covid-19 can be found here.

What about teaching and learning?

Read the NEU’s advice on supporting learning in the summer term as well as our existing advice on distance teaching of students who are at home.  DfE advice on reintegrating pupils into new routines, including teaching and supervising health and hygiene arrangements and setting out what needs to happen in relation to the washing of resources can be found here.

How do we avoid excessive workload expectations to teach more students in school and continue to teach others who are still at home?

Schools still cannot seek to work normally. The focus must be on ensuring that children are safe and supported. Staff will have demands and pressures of their own, such as childcare.  Staff who are in school cannot support home learning at the same time.

All safety protocols, rotas and changes to normal duties should be negotiated rather than imposed.  Staff working in school or at home can only carry out a reasonable workload which should be discussed collectively.  Staff should not be asked to carry out duties which are clearly outside the scope of their job description and employment contract. Staff should only be in school to supervise students and carry out essential duties.  If you are not needed for those purposes, you should not be in school.

What about arrival, departure and movement around the school?

Social distancing is important all around the school, not just in classrooms.  The NEU has posed a series of questions in our joint checklists that need to be answered so that staff and pupils can move safely through the corridors and up and down stairs from the date when the school opens more widely.

What about visits to school by students from other year groups or induction visits from primary?

Staff in secondary schools and colleges may also be asked to offer face to face meetings to students in other year groups which have not returned to school or college. These should be organised in such a way as to minimise the impact on separation arrangements as above.  The DFE advice to primary schools states that secondary schools should not organise induction visits for Y6 students other than virtual visits.

What is the NEU advice about mixing and movement between bubbles? 

Please see our advice on groups and bubbles.

Can I be asked to meet up outside school with children in my class who aren’t currently in school eg in the local park?

Teachers and support staff should not meet such children off school grounds for any reasons.  This would be contrary to Government safety guidance and also raise obvious safeguarding issues. If your employer restates any such requests, contact the NEU for further advice.

Should I still be getting my PPA time?

Yes, entitlements to PPA time are unaffected by the current situation.  New ways of working may, however, mean that you need to discuss with your employer how the appropriate PPA time is organised and provided.

What is the NEU position on face masks and face coverings for staff and students?

In some situations, staff may need to wear medical face masks as essential personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes work with pupils who cannot control behaviour such as spitting, coughing and sneezing which creates a greater risk of airborne transmission of the virus. The law requires employers to provide employees with PPE when risks to health and safety cannot adequately  be controlled by other measures.  

On this basis, the NEU believes that PPE should be provided for all staff working in SLD and PMLD settings. It should also be provided in other settings for staff to use where risk assessments suggest this is appropriate.  This would include when staff are required to supervise students who are unwell and awaiting collection and potentially when working in some Early Years settings. Risk assessments should determine what level of PPE is appropriate for the risk. Where PPE is provided, there should be training in its proper use and disposal.

Staff and students may wish to wear face coverings in other situations to reassure themselves or others. Face coverings which are not medical masks are not classed as PPE and there is debate over the level of protection they provide to the wearer or to others. The World Health Organisation does, however, now recommend that face coverings are worn in public places including schools.

Many staff and students will be anxious about returning to school/college and will be conscious that they will be required to wear face coverings on public transport and when in shops. Some will feel that wearing a face covering in the school/college offers a degree of extra protection, combined with other hygiene and distancing measures.  Some will, of course, also be aware that their personal circumstances such as age or ethnicity create a higher degree of risk to them personally. The NEU position is that staff and students should not, therefore, be prevented from wearing face coverings if they wish to do so.  You can find more information about PPE here.

What is the NEU position on testing and contact tracing?

The Prime Minister has said that a national track and trace operation will be put in place. This will bring together an app, expanded web and phone-based contact tracing, and swab testing for those with potential coronavirus symptoms.

Please see the NEU advice on testing and tracing below.

What should I do if I want to be sure my employer considers my own personal circumstances?

The NEU has published specific advice on ensuring your employer considers the fact that you are vulnerable yourself, live with or care for vulnerable people, or have particular personal circumstances that need be taken into account such as a hazardous journey to work or childcare problems.  The NEU position is that employers should consider all such cases and allow employees to continue working from home.

What if staff or students develop coronavirus?

In the event of a case being confirmed at a school or college, DfE advice on the procedure to be followed is set out in point 4 of its guidance.

What if staff and students may have been exposed to coronavirus?

Schools are under a duty to protect the health and well-being of those employed at and studying at the school.  Students and staff should not be admitted to the school where this would conflict with NHS advice on self-isolation. If staff or students seek to attend when they should be self-isolating, the school should send them home.

Groups and bubbles

Is it acceptable for staff or students to move between bubbles during the day or between days?

The term “bubble” is being commonly used for a single group of students, established as part of wider opening and smaller than a normal class. The point of a bubble is to minimise the risk of infection by minimising contact and mixing at all times during the day, including breaks, and to allow easier identification and isolation of contacts if any infection. For this to work, keeping those groups as consistent as possible is essential.  

The DFE advice on implementing protective measures as part of wider opening says the following:

“Keep cohorts together where possible and:

  • ensure that children and young people are in the same small groups at all times each day, and different groups are not mixed during the day, or on subsequent days;
  • ensure that the same teacher(s) and other staff are assigned to each group and, as far as possible, these stay the same during the day and on subsequent days, recognising for secondary and college settings there will be some subject specialist rotation of staff;
  • ensure that wherever possible children and young people use the same classroom or area of a setting throughout the day, with a thorough cleaning of the rooms at the end of the day. In schools and colleges, you may want to consider seating students at the same desk each day if they attend on consecutive days.”

Primary and secondary school students who are key worker or vulnerable children should be attending school full time. Other primary school students who have returned to school in years R, 1and 6 should also be attending school full time and should not be attending on a rota basis.  Other secondary school students who have returned to school in years 10 & 12 are likely to be attending on a rota basis.  In some schools, there may be separate groups for those attending full time and those attending on a rota basis.

Any proposal to expand opening further and admit students to schools from other year groups should be the subject of thorough consultation and revision of risk assessments before going ahead.

The NEU advice on bubbles is as follows:

  • Any movement between bubbles by staff or students is not in accordance with DFE advice, other than where essential in secondary schools to provide specialist teaching.
  • Students should remain in the same group at all times.  They should not move between bubbles during the day, or from one day to the next, at any time. This applies to those attending full time and on a rota basis.
  • Any students returning to school for the first time should, wherever possible, be added to their group at the beginning of the week.
  • Staff in primary schools should be allocated to one group only and should not move between bubbles unless necessary to ensure a replacement for someone who is unable to continue working.
  • Staff movement between bubbles in secondary schools should only happen in order to provide specialist teaching.  Such movement should still be kept to an absolute minimum and should be avoided during the teaching day as far as possible. Secondary groups may therefore work with different teachers on different days in order to secure specialist input – but teachers should not be switching classes on the same day.
  • Arrangements in special schools should reflect the above advice depending on whether there are or are not separate groups for those attending full time and on a rota basis. 
  • The level of staffing assigned to each group also needs to allow for the 'bubble' to be supervised across any break or lunchtime, with staff having appropriate access to (segregated) facilities for their breaks. 

Working entitlements in school or at home 

What can I reasonably be asked to do while working from home or in school?

All safety protocols, rotas and changes to normal duties should be negotiated rather than imposed.  Staff working in school or at home can only carry out a reasonable workload which should be discussed collectively.  Staff should not be asked to carry out duties which are clearly outside the scope of their job description and employment contract. Staff should only be in school to supervise students and carry out essential duties.  If you are not needed for those purposes, you should not be in school.

Schools cannot seek to work normally. The main focus must be on ensuring that children are safe and supported. Staff will have demands and pressures of their own, such as childcare.  Staff who are in school cannot support home learning at the same time.

Where can I find advice on safe working in school?

NEU advice on safe working in school covers the need to minimise the number of students and staff at school and to establish, in consultation with staff, protocols for social distancing, contact with and between students, and hygiene and cleaning procedures.

Where can I find advice on safe working at home?

See also NEU advice on keeping yourself safe while working at home.

Where can I find advice on distance teaching?

For advice on distance learning and educational activities students can do from home, read the NEU advice on distance teaching.

Where can I find advice on supporting students who are at home?

See NEU advice on vulnerable students.

What is happening with appraisal and performance management?

The NEU does not believe that procedures can realistically continue during the current period or that staff can be expected to fulfil objectives set before the crisis.  We are calling on the DfE to issue advice that all eligible teachers and support staff should receive pay progression this year irrespective of statutory and contractual procedures.

What if I am involved in a discipline, grievance or capability procedure?

The NEU believes that procedures cannot continue during the current period.  The law’s requirements for consultation, representation and a fair hearing can’t realistically be met and in some circumstances individuals’ health may be placed at risk. Procedures should therefore be put on hold.  The same applies to collective consultations on matters like restructuring and redundancy, academy conversion and withdrawal from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.  If employers continue with these processes, you should, collectively, make representations about freezing the process and if necessary, seek NEU support. We will seek to stop unreasonable employers seeking to act unreasonably.

Pay and sick pay when you cannot attend work 

Will I get full pay when working at home?

Yes – if you are working at home due to school closure with the employer’s agreement, then you will get full pay.

What if I can’t go into school due to being vulnerable or due to living with or caring for a vulnerable person?

If you are fit to work, but cannot go into school due to being vulnerable or due to living with or caring for a vulnerable person, you should be allowed to work at home and receive full pay.

What if I am off sick?

Your sick pay entitlements will be set out in your contract. However, the NEU is calling on all employers to act in line with ACAS advice and provide full pay for all sickness absence, regardless of employees’ actual entitlement, and disregard such absence for the purpose of sickness absence management. Otherwise, employees may simply try to come into their workplace, increasing the risk of transmission.

What if I am self-isolating in line with NHS advice?

The NEU is again calling on all employers to act in line with ACAS advice and provide full pay for all such absence, regardless of employees’ contractual entitlements. This applies whether you are self-isolating as a precaution due to symptoms or self-isolating as a result of having been contacted by the NHS Test & Trace Service. Assuming you are fit to work, you should arrange with your employer what work you can do while at home.

Do I need to provide a sick note if I am sick or have to self-isolate?

Schools are not obliged to ask for medical certification for sickness absence, even after the first seven days during which employees can self-certify, and we hope that schools will not feel that they need to request any evidence.  If they do, you can obtain an “isolation note” from which satisfies this requirement for yourself or someone else by answering a few short questions.  The NHS advice is that if you are well enough to work from home, you should not need to provide such a note.

What about notifying fitness to return from sick leave?

When you are fit to return to work, notify your employer as normal then discuss whether you will be working at home or on a rota basis in school and at home.

What is the position with regard to holidays abroad in late August, given the current requirement to quarantine on return from abroad which would include the start of term?

The NEU does not expect any member to be asked to cancel holidays abroad which were already booked before the announcement of the quarantine requirement, especially where full reimbursement cannot be secured.

If you have already booked a holiday abroad in late August, you should discuss the matter with your head teacher and seek agreement that, if the quarantine requirement remains in place in early September, you will be permitted to work at home. The quarantine requirement is a legal requirement imposed by Government. Since you will be available for work during the quarantine period, the NEU believes that any direction to work at school in breach of the quarantine requirement would be an unreasonable and therefore invalid direction.  You should therefore be permitted to work at home if necessary, and should not be asked to agree to take unpaid leave or "make up time" at another date. The NEU does not accept that employers are necessarily permitted to make deductions from pay for non-attendance at the workplace in these circumstances when you are available to work at home and will vigorously challenge any such deductions on your behalf.

If you are considering booking such a holiday but have not yet done so, the NEU advises you not to do so without first seeking and securing agreement from your head teacher that you will be permitted to work at home during any quarantine period following your return.  It will be more difficult to argue that a direction to work at school is unreasonable if you have booked a holiday after the announcement of the quarantine requirement and without seeking such agreement.

The provisions of the Burgundy Book and Green Book agreements do not contain provisions which conclusively cover this situation where employees are not themselves sick or living with someone who is sick.  The above approach, however, can be applied to all employment and all contractual working time arrangements.

Workload and working time

I am a classroom teacher employed on School Teachers Pay & Conditions Document terms and conditions.  What are the limits on my contracted hours? 

Legally you 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. All school term days still count as working days, even if the school was closed, as teachers were nevertheless available for work and working at home. You should not accept any suggestion that school closures or partial closures mean that you can be expected to “make up” some of this time by working longer than normal hours or for additional days.  NEU general advice on working time is available here

As a support staff member, I am being asked to work extra hours beyond my contractual working hours.  What are my rights?

Support Staff members employed on Green Book terms & conditions cannot be required to work more than their contracted hours.  If asked to work additional hours, you have a right to refuse.  If you agree to work additional hours, you should be compensated for this.  Your contract of employment or staff handbook should provide details about the additional rates of pay you should expect to receive for overtime worked.

Support staff not employed on Green Book terms (eg in the independent sector) will usually still have set hours and pay rates. You should not be regularly expected to work above and beyond those hours. Where there is agreement to do so, additional hours should be paid or there should be flexibility to take some time back.  Further advice for support staff is here

I teach in an independent school and do not have defined working hours in my contract.  I am being expected to work longer than normally required – what are my rights?

Many teachers working in the independent sector do not have defined daily or weekly hours of work, although school holiday dates are usually defined. Contracts are often vague or contain catch-all phrases such as “whatever hours are considered reasonable for carrying out your duties.”  There is also likely to be an unwritten expectation that teaching staff will take part in extra-curricular activities outside the teaching day.

A school cannot unreasonably increase hours of work. Your working time and its relationship to your pay is the core of a contract of employment. Some minor variation to accommodate business needs is acceptable but major change without consultation and agreement is not. There are also protections against working excessive hours in the Working Time Regulations. You should seek NEU support if you feel that you are being treated unreasonably.  Further information for independent sector teachers can be found here

I work in the FE Sector.  I have agreed to work additional contact hours with my students. What are my rights?

If you are in agreement and happy to increase your contact hours, we would expect you to receive additional pay for the additional workload based on the model followed for your educational establishment. You should check your contract of employment or staff handbook to see how overtime is calculated and what the safeguards for working above your weekly hours are (taking into account your annual planned hours). The NEU expects members to receive sufficient planning and preparation time to reflect any change to the contact time required of them. If your college is unwilling to support, you for the additional time around planning and preparation then you have the right to refuse. To find out more, go here

I am a school leader - what are my rights regarding my working hours?

The School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) provides no specified limits on school leaders’ working time but the STPCD does stipulate that employers must have regard to the need for a satisfactory work/life balance.  Leaders employed on separate contractual arrangements may have a wide variety of contractual terms and obligations.  

All employers, however, must adhere to the provisions of the Working Time Regulations which call for a maximum working week of 48 hours averaged over 17 weeks (or 26 weeks for residential settings).  If you signed an “opt-out” form at your employer’s request,  you can cancel that at any point although you must provide your employer with notice.  You can find further information on the Working Time Regulations here and advice on workload as a health & safety issue here.

School and college leaders should not be expected to work excessive hours over an extended period.  Your wellbeing needs to be prioritised in order for you to lead and manage others effectively.  If you are concerned about your working hours, speak to your line manager (or   Chair of Governors if you are a head teacher or principal) to discuss ways of reducing the number of hours you are working.  If that fails to address the problem, you can contact the NEU for further support.

Being furloughed 

You can find detailed advice on the Government’s furlough scheme in our advice for members in independent schools and supply educators.This advice applies also to members in other sectors.

What to do if you think your school is not safe  

Can we refuse to work in school on health & safety grounds and will the law protect us?

Employers are legally required to maintain safety by implementing safety measures, reviewing procedures regularly, consulting with union reps and staff and seeking expert advice. 

In any situation where serious issues on staffing or hygiene have not been rectified and are posing an imminent danger of infection – for example, cleaning is not being carried out properly or social distancing measures are not being complied with – you should first of all make sure that your head teacher or principal is informed (by your rep if you have one) about your concerns.  If that doesn't resolve the matter, get in touch with the union for advice.  

The law provides some protection to employees individually if they leave or refuse to enter the workplace in circumstances which they reasonably believe to represent 'serious and imminent danger'.  You should always seek union advice, however, other than in extreme situations such as a clear danger to life.

Specific sectors advice