Restrictions have been lifted for the most part, but these are still not normal times. This is still not education as usual.

As  the virus has not gone away, and it is still within our  communities, it is important that schools reinforce messages about safety, hygiene, crowding and keeping children and staff as secure as possible.

Running a Covid-safe 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 hand washing and any mask wearing;
  • 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;
  • Working in greater than usual isolation from colleagues. 

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-safe school cannot be added on to ‘workload as usual’.  If we are going to keep schools and colleges open, 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.

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.

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

Find out more about directed time here.

Whether or not your contract offers you the protection of the 1,265 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.

What about in-school accountability measures which increase workload?

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

Ofsted will resume the full programme of graded school inspections from autumn 2021. More detailed information and NEU guidance on workload implications is available here.

Blended, Remote and Online Learning

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

Although most students will now be attending lessons in person, the Government still requires schools and colleges to provide education to students that remain or are at home due to Covid-19, as they do when students are in the classroom. Its expectations are the same as those originally set out in June.

To meet these expectations, teachers will need 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.

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 remote learning.

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

Although most children will be attending in person, provision will be needed for children at home due to Covid-19 or a need to isolate.  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 2020, 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 School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (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. Having to implement new ways of working does not mean that staff should be treated detrimentally. 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. 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.

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 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.

For summer exams 2021, please see our guidance.

Marking, book scrutiny and learning walks

Should I be marking books?

Yes, as long as it is safe to do so. However, arrangements should continue to be in place for limiting physical handling of pupil work and for submitting work online, especially where case rates are high. The NEU continues to take the position is that book scrutiny is not an essential element of teaching and adds to staff workload, so regular or excessive book scrutiny should not be taking place.

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. 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 continuing to operate certain safety measures to reduce the risk of  Covid-19 , learning walks should not be taking place. The NEU is encouraging all schools to act reasonably and not add to staff workload unnecessarily.

What is the NEU’s position on Breakfast and After-School Clubs?

The NEU position is that after school clubs should also be subject to appropriate safety measures and be voluntary. Where attendance for clubs is compulsory for staff, this should be included in directed time.  All extra-curricular clubs should take place in accordance with DfE guidance

As part of their duty of care, school leaders should consider the impact on staff workload for all extra-curricular activities taking place in their setting while Covid-19 remains in our communities. 

Meetings and parents’ evenings

Should staff meetings be taking place in person?

Face-to-face staff meetings should be avoided as far as possible. They should be held online wherever possible and should have appropriate social distancing maintained where there is no alternative to them being held in person.

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

These should be held online wherever possible and should have appropriate social distancing maintained where there is no alternative to them being held in person.

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?

Schools may continue staggered start and finish times for the autumn term in order to mitigate against Covid-19 outbreaks.  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 and the contractual working time limits for support staff  and for teachers not employed on STPCD terms 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 unless significant concerns have been raised. All employers should continue to properly reflect the impact of Covid-19 in discussions on objectives for 2020/21 and 2021/22 and in mid-year reviews.  Please see here for more details.

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

Objectives must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), fair and capable of being achieved.  Objective-setting for 2021-22 must take account of the continuing impact of Covid-19. 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 STPCD this is a maximum of 1,265 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.