The NEU advice on this and other pages has been updated in time for the start of the new academic year in September 2021. Please read this advice alongside the NEU’s main FAQ advice for members which covers a range of general matters.

Throughout the pandemic, I have been expected to carry out all sorts of additional duties (I work in the school office). My manager says that there is no problem with this, because of the clause in my job description (JD) which says that I can be asked to carry out any additional tasks “deemed necessary” by management. Is that true?

We live in exceptional times, and the current crisis has meant that support staff have been required to show a greater degree of flexibility than normal.

However, the legal and contractual position on working outside of your JD hasn’t changed, and can be summarised as follows:

If you are asked to carry out a function that is normally regarded as one that is proper to a grade or grades higher than your existing grade, then you should be recompensed appropriately for the time spent in completing that work.

If you are asked to carry out a function that is normally regarded as one that is proper to a grade or grades lower than, or at the same level as, your existing grade, then the test of “reasonableness” will come into play. Factors such as adequate training, and what parts of your main role will need to be set aside, will need to be considered.

You should also email your manager when asked to carry out additional duties, to confirm that you will only be doing so for a time-limited period: Otherwise, at some future point, it could be argued that those duties have become a permanent part of your JD.

I worked during the summer holidays for no extra pay, even though I am only paid on a term-time only basis. What should I do?

You should immediately make a claim for a retrospective payment of wages and do so with support from your NEU workplace rep, or if you haven’t got a rep, your local NEU secretary.

And, in the future, you should ensure that your manager understands that they have to pay you for any time worked during the holidays.

Should TAs/LSAs agree to teach or cover a class or group (e.g. half a class) if this wouldn't normally be a part of our job?

No support staff member should be teaching at any time, except for HLTAs who can take small groups (but not a whole class or half a class) or cover a teacher for a short period in certain circumstances (up to five days). Please refer to the NEU advice sheet HLTA’s and Cover Supervisors for further information.

My school says that absence when self-isolating with suspected Covid-19 will be treated as a normal sick absence. Is that correct?

No. Green Book, Section 10.9 says that absences caused by “contact with infectious disease” must not be offset against employees’ sick pay entitlements and should be recorded separately from normal sickness absence records. Different rules may apply for members in independent schools and post-16 colleges – consult your NEU rep.

My head says that pupils no longer need to wear face coverings in my secondary special school. Is this right?

The Department for Education (DfE) advice for special schools is that “face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors either in classrooms or in communal areas”. They do, however, recommend that they are worn in enclosed spaces. The NEU advises that:

  • In special schools and AP, where staff often work closely on a 1:1 basis with students, continuing to wear face coverings is important to avoid the further spread of coronavirus over the autumn term amongst both staff and students. Staff should be both permitted and encouraged to wear face coverings.
  • Although some pupils in special schools will qualify for an exemption from wearing a mask, the NEU advises that where possible, and in discussion with parent/carers, SEND pupils should be encouraged to wear masks or face coverings when in school as much as possible. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to SEND pupils’ ability and willingness to wear a mask, so schools should not rule this out with a blanket policy against their wearing.
  • Consideration should also be urgently given to the case for continuing to require staff and students to wear face coverings around the premises.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE), including FFP2 or FFP3 grade masks, if appropriate, should be provided for staff administering first aid, medical care or personal care activities where social distancing cannot be maintained, for example in some special schools and nurseries.

Those who rely on visual signals for communication, or work with those who communicate in this way, are exempt from wearing face coverings/masks under DfE guidance. The NEU advice is that clear masks should be worn by staff working with hearing impaired pupils and/or colleagues. Visors are not suitable as they do not protect against aerosol transmission.

I support students with personal care during the school day, should I continue to use the higher grade PPE?

The DfE advice is that if a student already has routine care needs that involve the use of PPE then the same PPE should continue to be used. Additional PPE should be used when performing aerosol generating procedures (AEGs). The NEU advice remains that when carrying out personal care with students, staff should wear higher grade PPE (FFP2 or FFP3 grade masks) and be allocated a room that is well-ventilated. Adequate time should also be allowed for putting on and removing the additional PPE, enhanced hand washing etc.

I am a teaching assistant who works 1:1 with a SEND student.  How can I socially distance? Should I be wearing a face covering during lessons?

The NEU asks all special schools to conduct updated individual risk assessments for support staff working 1:1 with SEND students. This should include consideration of additional PPE including masks and gloves following a further risk assessment of the children they are working closely with e.g. students who may be less able to socially distance, may spit etc.  It should also include an updated risk assessment regarding protocols around positive handling/restraint of pupils and social distancing.

The NEU advice on face coverings set out earlier applies to all staff. 

Should clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) staff who are at greater risk be working in school?

While the virus is still spreading through communities, the joint union position is that consideration should be given to permitting the staff at greatest risk to work from home when requested.

The latest Government guidance sets out a very individual approach with the onus on those at greater risk to protect themselves. Some staff at greater risk may be unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons and those who are at greater risk will be concerned that even if fully vaccinated, vaccines are less effective against the delta variant, with no vaccine offering 100 per cent protection.

The joint unions' advice, therefore, is that CEV staff who, following an individual risk assessment, or on medical advice, need to work from home should be supported by their employer to do so. We recognise for some staff this may mean a mutually agreed temporary redeployment into a role than can be undertaken from home. If Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) staff who are a greater risk from Covid-19 want to work on site, the school or college should conduct an individual risk assessment and consider additional mitigation measures that can be put in place to ensure their safety before a return to work.

The NEU believes that individual risk assessments should also be offered to clinically vulnerable and other higher risk staff eg staff aged 60 and above, including consideration of the additional safety measures available to CEV staff. Pregnant women in their third trimester should also be advised to work from home. See the full joint union advice for medically vulnerable and higher risk groups.

Individual Covid-19 risk assessments should be carried out (and reviewed where previously carried out) for the staff at greatest risk and for staff concerned about vulnerable household members. 

  • Individual risk assessments should be offered to staff with characteristics that put them at higher risk, such as age, ethnicity, sex and disability
  • Pregnant women in their third trimester should be permitted to work at home
  • Temporary changes in responsibilities should be agreed as appropriate to facilitate home working
  • Appropriate PPE should be provided for those staff at significant risk

IT technicians’ guidance for working in education

The main areas for concern, when working in colleges and schools, during the pandemic, are:

  • Carrying out work on IT equipment in situ that has been used within the last 72 hours.
  • Cleaning of the inside of PCs with compressed air.
  • Physical reporting of IT issues by staff and students.
  • Air conditioning units and virus transmission.

N.B. The cleaning of IT equipment and classes remains the responsibility of the cleaning staff, and IT Technicians should not undertake cleaning duties which are normally carried out by the school or college cleaners.

Carrying out work with IT equipment in situ

Best practice would be to ensure the room in question is empty and the IT equipment has had its Covid-19 cleaning routine carried out before work can proceed.  Studies have shown that Covid-19 can live up to 72 hours on plastics and stainless steel at room temperatures.

During the work you should wear appropriate PPE, (FFP2 face mask and gloves) to reduce the risk of transmission to and from yourself.

Cleaning PCs with compressed air

This should not be carried out unless absolutely necessary. If this must be carried out, you need to wear an FFP2 face mask and gloves and it should be done in an environment where the partials will be transported away from you to avoid risk of you breathing them in. If you can use a shield to prevent blowback this would be helpful.

Reporting of IT issues

All IT issues should be submitted to IT staff via email, phone or problem reporting software.

Air conditioning units

Air conditioning units have been shown to speed up the transmission of Covid-19 by allowing the virus to travel much greater distances. (The Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning associations – page 5)

The recommendations are if possible not to use recirculating air conditioning units. But to open windows instead to introduce fresh air into the room. If the room has no windows to introduce fresh air then another room should be found to have the lessons in. Server room air conditioning cannot be turned off, but these are very low traffic areas. Visits to these rooms will only really be by IT tech staff. But we still recommend you wear PPE (FFP2 face masks and gloves).