NQTs: know your rights and workload expectations

Understanding your rights is vital when you are starting out as a teacher so that you can bring your best to the role

Kevin Courtney

Preparing for your first teaching job

When you begin your newly qualified teacher year, it can be daunting, with lots of things to take in and new responsibilities.

While there are many expectations of you as an NQT, it’s important to know what help and support you are entitled to as this will help you to start your career on the right note.

First – before the start of the school year – all teachers are entitled to receive a timetable outlining their teaching time, non-contact and planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time.

PPA time should be calculated as 10 per cent of your timetabled teaching time. For example, if you have 20 hours of classroom teaching, you should receive a guaranteed two hours of PPA time. This is really important as you need time to develop the best lessons you can for your pupils.

Many teachers plan together in a year group or subject area, but PPA time is your time to decide what to do in your lessons.

Any other hours of non-contact time, such as free periods (more likely in secondary school) are still part of directed time. PPA should be clearly marked on your timetable and should take place during hours that pupils are taught.

It’s not good practice for PPA to be the only non-contact time teachers have in the school day. On top of this, an NQT is entitled to an additional 10 per cent of time off-timetable to undertake supportive activities, receive mentoring and spend extra time in non-contact work.

All teachers working the morning and afternoon sessions are entitled to a lunch break of a reasonable length between 12pm and 2pm.

You should not be required to undertake midday supervision duties and, if you volunteer to do so, are entitled to a free school meal.

You really need an uninterrupted lunch break in order to eat, rest and be ready to give your best in the afternoon.

Directed time is the hours during which your headteacher can direct the activities you undertake.

Teachers should be available for work on 195 days a year, 190 of which are for teaching pupils. Across the academic year, there are 1,265 hours of directed time, and this will be calculated on a pro-rata basis for part-time staff.  Those hours should include all face-to-face teaching, parent-teacher meetings, data submissions, report writing, and occasional cover.

It should also include staff meetings, briefings, departmental and year group meetings and pastoral time.

It’s good practice for schools to avoid any teacher having to attend too many meetings after school.  Most unions advise that requests to be in school before or after hours should be kept to a minimum – if you have concerns, it is worth speaking to a union representative or contacting the relevant helplines.

The five non-pupil contact days are typically used for new academic year planning, whole-school CPD and updates on vital issues such as safeguarding. Schools can decide for themselves when these are set, with agreement from governors, and some of these can be twilight sessions.

The total Inset should be the equivalent of five normal school days and you should be given plenty of notice, ideally before the start of each academic year.

You shouldn’t be asked to cover for planned absences such as training courses, maternity leave and long-term sickness, and you should never be asked to do so in PPA or NQT protected time.

The 1,265-hour limit does not apply to teachers on the leadership pay scale.  And you shouldn’t be asked to carry out routine admin duties that don’t require the skills and professional judgement of a teacher.

Parent-teacher meetings often take place in the evening but your school still has a duty of care to you and your work-life balance, so the time should be part of the 1,265 hours.

All these entitlements come from the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), which applies to teachers in local authority, foundation or voluntary-aided schools.

If you are employed by an academy, you should check your contract – if your employment transferred from a local authority, foundation or voluntary-aided school, your contractual rights should have been transferred under legislation known as TUPE. Academies often follow the STPCD because it’s more complex to administer different sets of terms and conditions.

The STPCD also says that teachers will work additional hours to fulfil their professional role but the NEU teaching union, among others, believes that some of these are unnecessary and therefore disputable. These include tasks carried out to satisfy the Ofsted inspection regime and high-stakes testing, on top of the funding levels that mean schools can’t employ staff in sufficient numbers to do all the work that’s being asked of them.

The NEU's workload campaign aims to reduce these extra hours and offers alternatives. Ultimately, if regulations are not being adhered to, it will impact negatively on your work-life balance and mental health, which is not in the best interests of anyone, including the pupils you teach.

Like any new job, the key is to ask for help if you need it – reach out to the unions or school representatives to ensure you know your rights and that any concerns can be addressed quickly and directly.

Becoming a teacher is something to be proud of and it’s important to recognise your own value and ensure you know your rights as you embark on this fantastic career path.

Kevin Courtney is joint-secretary general for the NEU teaching union

The NEU website has lots of info for new teachers and we’ve got your back if you have problems, so don’t hesitate to ask

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