Male teacher with pupils

Independent sector rights at work

Your statutory rights are the minimum you are entitled to as an employee of the school.

In some cases, your contract will provide you with better terms and conditions and, if this is the case, those better terms and conditions will apply.

The main differences between teaching in state and independent schools?

Independent schools are not obliged to follow the pay and conditions of service agreed for teachers in LA maintained schools, although some choose to do so. Your pay and conditions of service in such schools are likely to depend to a considerable extent on the results of negotiation between you and the employer.

Your right to a statement of particulars of employment

Your employer has a legal duty to give you a written statement of the particulars of your employment within two months of you starting your job. The statement should contain, for example, your hours of work, holiday entitlement, place of work, etc. Your pay and on what basis it is calculated if you are a part-time teacher, should also be included. Your employer should also state the title of your job and a brief description of the work for which you are employed.

Your 'contract of employment' is comprised of the written statement of the particulars of employment together with (depending on individual circumstances) the letter of appointment, and other particulars of your employment that are provided to you in instalments or contained in separate collective agreements. All of these might be contained or referred to in a contract of employment that you and your employer sign.


Independent schools set their own salary scales and are not obliged to follow the national pay arrangements set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).

Your contract should set out the salary payable including any additional allowances payable, any provisions for salary increases such as due dates and amounts of increments and any conditions for entitlement to these. Some contracts provide for increments to be withheld in the case of perceived poor performance. 

Pay in the independent sector

As private businesses outside the national collective bargaining structure in the maintained sector, independent schools have greater freedom to set their own terms and conditions of employment.


Your contract should specify the duties which you will be required to perform. Bear in mind that these may differ from those prescribed for teachers employed under the STPCD – for example, you may be required to undertake lunchtime supervision or to participate in after-school activities at evenings and weekends. You should obtain sight of any additional documents referred to in your contract (e.g. “staff handbook”) which may be relevant.

Working hours

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, the working week is limited to a maximum of 48 hours, averaged over 17 weeks. In residential institutions, the averaging period is 26 weeks.


It is standard practice for teachers to be entitled to take all school holidays as paid annual leave, although your employer may reserve the right to require you to attend for one or two days in the holiday. The entitlement should be the same if you are a part-time teacher, although your pay will be no more than your weekly pay during term time.

NEU recommends that, if you have a contractual requirement to work in school holidays, this should be for a maximum of five days per academic year. It should take place immediately at the end of a school term or the beginning of the next one, and preferably in blocks of one or two days at a time.

Sick leave / sick pay

Your contract should specify your entitlement to paid sick leave. There may be various additional conditions attached. Statutory minimum entitlements must, however, be observed by employers.

Maternity/paternity/adoption provisions

The proprietors of independent schools are free to establish their own provisions regarding maternity and parental rights, subject only to the minimum statutory entitlements for maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave, parental leave and shared parental leave.

Some independent schools follow the provisions of the Burgundy Book scheme, which applies in LA maintained schools; but some count only continuous employment at that particular school for the purposes of calculating entitlement to maternity leave and pay. 

Special leave

NEU recommends that each school has its own special leave policy and that it is applied in a fair, consistent and transparent manner. You should check with your employer to establish whether there is such a policy. In the absence of a policy, the following points apply.

  • Time off (whether paid or unpaid) to attend one-off events, such as graduations or overseas holidays, is at the discretion of the headteacher.
  • Leave for compassionate reasons, such as bereavement, is also at the discretion of the headteacher, but NEU would expect most schools to look favourably on such requests.

Right to time off in case of family emergency

You have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off in the case of a family emergency.

Some independent schools allow for a number of days of paid time off in the case of a family emergency. You should check your contract of employment and/or staff handbook to see if this is the case.

Retirement age

The default retirement age, which was 65, has now been phased out and you can work beyond this age if you wish to – you do not need to seek your employer's consent to do so.

Occasionally, some employers may choose to have a default retirement age. However, in order to be able to rely on this, an employer must be able to provide objective justification for its chosen age. We anticipate that for most jobs in schools, such objective justification will be difficult for employers to provide.

Teachers on two or more fixed-term contracts

If you have been employed on two or more fixed-term contracts for four years since July 2002, you have the right to a permanent contract of employment, unless the school can provide objective justification not to make you a permanent employee.

Notice periods

If you have a contract of employment you must follow its notice provisions (unless they are less than the statutory minimum notice periods). Independent school contracts usually require both you and the school to give one full term's notice in writing.

The statutory notice period requires both you and the school to give a minimum of one week's notice for employment over one month but less than two complete years, and two weeks for two years, three weeks for three years etc, up to a maximum of 12 weeks.

Disciplinary and grievance procedures

Your contract should provide for proper procedures in respect of disciplinary action and pursuing grievances. These should include rights to a hearing before the employing body; to representation; to adequate notice of hearings; to provision of information regarding complaints, charges or adverse reports prior to the hearing; and to an appeal hearing. 

The procedures should also state clearly that suspension is not a disciplinary measure in itself, would happen only in exceptional circumstances, and would always be on full pay.

Capability procedure

Your contract should provide for procedures to be followed where there is concern about a teacher’s performance. These should include provisions for teachers to receive adequate notice of meetings with the head teacher and to be accompanied by a friend at such meetings, and also guidance on deciding a programme of support. 

Where formal procedures are invoked, the teacher concerned should benefit from the same rights as apply for disciplinary and grievance procedures. 


You should be clear about the arrangements for pension contributions. Many independent schools take part in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, in which case the same arrangements will apply as in LA maintained schools. Others may operate their own workplace pension scheme and may offer contributions to a personal pension scheme, but such arrangements are extremely unlikely to match the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

How does the NEU work to improve terms and conditions in independent schools?

By being a member of the NEU, you can play your part in winning gains to your pay and working conditions in an independent school in just the same way as in a state-funded school. 

This has been particularly effective where the school is part of a wider trust, such as the Girls Day School Trust, where NEU members and reps have sought and won major gains by working collectively with the support of their union in schools across the country.

Can I obtain further advice on specific schools?

It is not generally NEU policy to comment on the reputation of any particular independent school, but we sometimes have to express reservations and recommend caution where we have evidence that particular schools have in the past failed to fulfil their obligations to teachers.

More information

Teacher with pupils in music room

Pay in the independent sector

As private businesses outside the national collective bargaining structure in the maintained sector, independent schools have greater freedom to set their own terms and conditions of employment.

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