These are not normal times. This is not education as usual.

With the virus spreading quickly through communities, it is important that schools reinforce messages about safety, hygiene, crowding and keeping bubbles as secure as possible.

Running a Covid-secure school or college is workload intensive, requiring teachers, support staff and leaders to do extra, time-consuming work.

This work includes, but is not limited to:

  • Supervising staggered starts and finishes and staggered lunch times;
  • Supervising students at breaks and lunch times in classrooms, corridors and shared spaces;
  • Supervising mask wearing and hand washing;
  • Moving around buildings or across sites, taking resources with you;
  • Planning work for students who are not in school (blended learning);
  • Supporting students and parents who are stressed and anxious about Covid-19;
  • Maintaining ‘bubbles’ and working in greater isolation from colleagues. 

In response to a recent NEU survey, members told us:

‘I am over worked and exhausted’

‘Constantly moving between sites carrying resources is exhausting’

‘In case exams are cancelled there has been an increase in data collection. This has led to a massive increase in workload of every teacher in my department’

‘I feel abandoned by the government’

Working time is not infinitely expandable. There is a limit to everyone’s contractual working time.  For most teachers, there is a limit of 1,265 hours for which they can be directed to work.

The extra demands of maintaining a Covid-secure school cannot be added on to ‘workload as usual’.  If we are going to keep schools and colleges open and COVID secure, as well as continuing to provide high quality teaching which responds to students’ learning loss and wellbeing needs, we need to make sure that teachers and support staff are not exhausted.

Coronavirus and Workload FAQ topics

Tackling excessive workload

How do we avoid excessive workload expectations?

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 NEU support is available for tackling workload problems during Covid-19?

The NEU's support for you during this period, in addressing workload problems as well as safety problems, is set out on our reps advice page. Addressing workload is a key part of our joint union checklist, and any issues and problems with workload should be treated as breaches of the checklist and raised using the escalation procedure set out on the reps advice page.

What should teachers not be doing in order to make their workload sustainable and to keep schools and colleges open in the medium to longer term?

The Government’s own workload surveys show that in-school accountability procedures are the greatest cause of excessive workload.

Ofsted has suspended its normal inspections this term.  Inspectors are visiting some schools and colleges, with a focus on how they are coping with Covid-19 and meeting senior leaders only. Inspectors will be looking at five key issues: behaviour, attendance, safeguarding, curriculum and home learning. There will be no grade or progress judgement after the visit.  Inspectors will not require any prewritten planning or other documentation, will not be visiting classrooms and will not be observing teaching.  Ofsted will not require any lesson plans, examples of assessment or displays for the visit. More detailed information and guidance on workload implications is available.

Normal in-school accountability processes should not be happening. They are not required for ‘evidence’ for Ofsted. These processes increase workload which is already unsustainable. There should be no place in schools and colleges for any of the following:

  • Learning walks
  • Lesson observations
  • Book scrutiny
  • Data collection and analysis beyond that which is needed for good quality teaching
  • In person parents’ meetings
  • In person staff meetings

Senior leaders should work with their staff to limit work that is unnecessary to these core aims.

If your management is insisting on in-school accountability you should raise the matter as outlined above.

What tools are available to monitor my directed time as a school teacher and identify ways of reducing working time and workload?

Whether or not your contract offers you the protection of the 1265 hours limit on directed time, you can use the NEU directed time calculator to work out your likely working hours over the course of the year and start monitoring your hours now.

Then, read the NEU’s longstanding workload reduction toolkit which contains advice on addressing unnecessary workload arising from a range of common sources.  The issues and strategies set out in that advice can be applied in all schools and colleges and to most if not all staff.

Blended, Remote and Online Learning

What are the expectations on schools and colleges regarding blended learning?

Teachers, leaders and support staff are finding the working week to be exhausting. The Government has imposed a legal duty on schools and colleges to provide education to students at home, as they do when students are in the classroom. Its expectations are the same as those originally set out in June and can be found here.

To meet these expectations, teachers will need a significant amount of time to plan content that can be used in classrooms and remotely, and to find or record explanations of new concepts. While some of this time can be found by reprioritising and repurposing activities, it is unlikely to provide enough to plan a programme that is of equivalent length to the core teaching pupils would receive in school, ideally including daily contact with teachers.

Without a significant increase in numbers of teachers, the NEU does not believe that these expectations can be fully met. Individual teachers cannot be expected to do two jobs (teach in class and remotely) and find time to plan for both. School leaders and teachers will need to work together to agree what is reasonable and manageable, in order to maintain pupil learning during this period.

Read the NEU’s full advice on blended learning.

How can I prepare for remote learning without massively increasing my workload?

Replanning lessons so that they can be taught both in classrooms and available to pupils at home, will take time. The first thing you should do is to discuss with your senior leadership how that time will be made available. Options to consider might include:

Repurposing time already directed, e.g. staff meeting times.

Stopping some usual activities, e.g. agreeing a period of time where you will not mark work.

Not having individual parent meetings this term.

Repurposing pre-existing Inset days or setting additional ones this term.

You should also agree the priorities for planning: will you plan first for particular year groups or subjects? Where possible you should divide the work with colleagues in the year group or department. You might also be able to share resources with colleagues in different schools in your local area or in your MAT.

You should also consider how to use external resources – blended learning does not have to mean the class teacher must present and develop original materials. Schools have used materials from the BBC and clickview for example. Subject associations and societies will also have resources available. Government advice points to materials from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) as well as to Oak Academy.  It may be helpful to start by using external resources, and then gradually plan content and teaching that better suits your school circumstances.

You could think about the materials you already use in lessons (presentations, worksheets) and whether you could upload those onto your online platform for use by pupils at home. This will include activities you might be giving as homework.

Cover for Absent Colleagues

Do teachers have to cover for absent colleagues?

Teachers can only be required to cover “rarely”, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Rarely” means in circumstances which were not foreseeable. Schools have been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic since March, so absences due to Covid-19 are 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 absences due to Covid-19. They should not be asking staff to regularly cover absences due to self-isolation or quarantine.

PPA, Mid-Day Supervision & Lunch Breaks

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

No teacher can be required to do this under their STPCD contract of employment.  Schools are clearly under pressure at the moment due to Covid-19 and may try to implement or impose working practices which would not normally be considered. The NEU position remains that no teacher should be required to undertake mid-day supervision.  If you are required to do so, please contact your school rep or local officer.

Is there still a right to a lunch break?

Yes. The NEU understands that employers are having to implement new ways of working but this does not mean that staff should be treated detrimentally. 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. This should not be shortened so that it denies a reasonable break. Support staff who are normally entitled to a lunch break should also continue to have one. Leadership group teachers are also entitled to such a break, as close to the middle of the school day as is reasonably practical. Teachers cannot be required to attend management-convened meetings during their lunch break.

Some schools are asking staff to adjust their usual lunch breaks as a result of changes made to school timetables due to the covid-19 pandemic.  This can have an impact on your directed time calendar and may not be covered by the contingency hours published.  If you are asked to reduce your lunch breaks by 10 minutes, 3 days per week, this will add up to 1,170 minutes over an academic year, which is 19.5 hours.  If the contingency in your directed time calendar is only 10 hours, this will result in you being overdirected by 9.5 hours.  Please speak with your workplace rep if you need assistance in discussions with your headteacher about the reimbursement of your time.

Find out more about directed time here.

Are all teachers still entitled to planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time during Covid-19 and, if so, how is the entitlement calculated?

All teachers who teach pupils continue to be entitled to PPA time, set as a minimum of ten per cent of their timetabled teaching time. Some teachers will have more non-contact time than this in their teaching timetable. PPA time must take place during the period in which pupils are taught; it should not be used for cover purposes, even during Covid-19, and teachers cannot be directed to undertake other specific activities during this time either.

Should teachers be reimbursed PPA time if they lose it?

The minimum entitlement to PPA time must continue to be observed even during Covid-19. There is no reimbursement, however, for loss of PPA time through sickness absence or leave of absence. The NEU equally opposes other reductions in non-contact time.

What about exam invigilation?

Teachers should not in any case be invigilating exams or mock exams.  This is specifically prohibited for those covered by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).  Schools and colleges should have a team which can be assembled as and when required by the Examinations Officer.

Exams must be conducted in Covid-secure conditions, including with appropriate social distancing and ventilation.  Invigilation by individuals not in the same bubble as the students should be avoided or minimised.  DfE advice is available here.

Marking, book scrutiny and learning walks

Should I 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.

My school is demanding staff submit class books to review marking.  Should book scrutiny be going on during Covid-19?

The NEU position is that this is not an essential element of teaching.  Schools still cannot operate normally, all staff in schools are under enormous pressure dealing with Covid-19 and new ways of working.  Schools should not be adding to this and instead should be looking at ways to reduce staff workload and anxiety at this time.  Regular or excessive book scrutiny adds to the workload of all staff involved and should not be taking place.

Additionally, book scrutiny must only be taking place if proper Covid-19 Health & Safety measures are adhered to.   The NEU’s view is that 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 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.

Although my head does not expect me to do live online lessons, there is an expectation that home based pupils will email any questions to me. How can I keep this manageable?

You should agree with your head what is a reasonable timeframe within which emailed questions can be answered. This will be different depending on how many pupils are learning at home. Where large groups are self-isolating but you are still teaching other classes, you will need to agree a system which takes into account the different times that pupils might be accessing lessons and therefore needing support, and the amount of time you have available to read and respond to emails. This will include providing group feedback rather than sending individual emails, where that’s appropriate. Whatever system you agree should be shared with pupils and parents in order to manage their expectations and should be kept under review.

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 and dealing with new ways of working due to Covid-19. Learning walks are, in any case, not part of the appraisal cycle and create unnecessary workload for senior leaders and other staff. With all schools adopting Covid-19 health and safety measures and using bubbles, learning walks cannot currently be undertaken safely and therefore should not be taking place. The NEU is encouraging all schools to act reasonably and not add to staff workload unnecessarily.

Meetings and parents’ evenings

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 Covid-19.

Should parents’ evenings or open days be taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic?

NEU position remains that the coming together of large groups of adults in schools e.g. staff meetings, parent meetings or 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 teleconference 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 staff having to spend additional time in making appointments with parents.  Many schools now buy into services which allow for parents to book meetings online with minimal interaction with school staff.

Staggered start and finish times

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

Arrangements for staggered start and finish times should seek to avoid increased working time on site for staff, wherever possible.  Staff should have clear starting and finishing times and should not be expected to remain in school later if they have started earlier or vice versa.

The STPCD’s directed time provisions for school teachers do not permit them to be directed to work for more than 1,265 hours of directed time per year (for part-time teachers, pro rata arrangements apply). This has not changed due to the current situation and additional time spent on site as a result of complying with earlier start or later finish times or the direction of the head teacher, counts as directed time. Teachers not employed on STPCD terms, and support staff, will also have contractual limits on their working time which must be observed. NEU general advice on working time is available here.

Performance management

What about pay progression, appraisal and performance management?

The NEU is calling to all employers to agree that all eligible staff should receive pay progression this year automatically.  Decisions cannot realistically be taken this year by reference to objectives set before the crisis.  This should be reflected both in any appraisal or performance managements discussions reviewing the 2019-20 academic year and in discussions looking forward to 2020-21.  Please see here for more details.

What can I do to ensure objectives set for me this year are reasonable?

Objectives must be SMART, fair and capable of being achieved.  Objective-setting for 2020-21 must take account of the continuing impact of coronavirus.  With exam arrangements extremely uncertain and outcomes possibly likely to ignore the impact of teachers' individual work with students, it would be unfair to set exam-related objectives.  Expectations covered by other objectives must be capable of being achieved. 

Appraiser/appraisee contact such as review meetings and observations may be affected, and there may be reduced access to support and professional development.  The crisis will also continue to have a particular impact on certain groups and objectives must take account of this as well.  The NEU will expect appraisal to be a positive process, with reviews deemed to be successful unless significant concerns have been raised, and pay progression the norm.

Safer working

Where can I find advice on safe working in school?

The 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.

Directed Time

Directed Time is the time a teacher can be directed to work by their employer.  For teachers employed under the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) this is a maximum of 1265 hours per academic year.  Directed Time has not been suspended due to the covid-19 pandemic.  With many teachers facing increased pressure on their workload due to the pandemic and new working practices, it is imperative to ensure you are not working above your directed.  You can find out more about directed time and how to calculate your directed time using our Directed Time resources.