The below responses are based on information available to INTO to date. Members should bear in mind that this is a fast-changing situation. We will update these FAQs as further information becomes available. Please note these FAQ’s apply only to members in Northern Ireland.
For the most up-to-date information please refer to our dedicated COVID-19 advice page.
1. Work and Attendance
The announcement on Friday 27 March in relation to essential work makes it clear that teachers should not be travelling to their place of work is still applicable at June 15 and makes it clear that teachers should work from home where attendance at school is not business critical. Effective 6pm, on Monday 30 March, school buildings are no longer be accessible to school staff (except in the case of school staff who are involved in planning for the distribution of school meals to vulnerable pupils) - see update on school meals:
The Department has recommended that principals regularly survey their parents and staff so that they can estimate both pupil numbers and staff required.
INTO advises principal members to complete the survey and return it to the Department of Education.
- Principals in their response to the daily Department of Education Survey should assume the status of staff remains unchanged unless it has been indicated otherwise since the previous days survey response.
Members are advised to:
[i] make full use of the comments boxes to communicate the reasoning behind their responses to the Department;
[ii] make it clear they will in conjunction with their Boards of Governors keep matters under daily review;
[iii] not make commitments beyond the next day.
It is vital that the information the Department is seeking is provided as it will be essential in supporting the unions efforts to have the Department revisit their strategy of using schools and teachers to facilitate day care for essential workers.”
Parents should be reminded that there is no requirement for children of Key Workers to be minded at schools, and that this facility should only be used where all other options in relation to childcare have been exhausted. it is imperative that the number of staff and pupils presenting themselves to schools during this period is kept to a minimum.
Follow the link to get the latest information for members:
Principals record staff as working normally.
Teachers’ identifying in the vulnerable group or those caring for /living with immediate family in the vulnerable group should work from home.
As of June 22nd 2020, the official advice (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/) linked from the Department of Education’s ‘New School Day’ document states that staff who are clinically vulnerable should be supported to work from home where possible, by asking them to support remote education. If they do not wish to work from home, they should be offered the safest available on-site roles in line with social distancing.
The full guidance is divided into two parts:
Teachers Considered Vulnerable
Teachers over the age of 70 are considered vulnerable, even if they do not have an underlying health condition. This also applies to those who are pregnant.
Others considered vulnerable include teachers who are under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. for adults this usually is anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
Those with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus must stay at home to protect themselves. GPs will be writing to those in Northern Ireland most at risk to provide them with more detailed advice.
Teachers Considered Extremely Vulnerable
Known as shielding, teachers considered to be at the highest clinical risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) received shielding letters from their GP or hospital care team to inform them:
- they should stay at home at all times
- avoid all face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks
These staff should not attend school in person.
However, INTO continues to advise its members only to attend school, if the reason is business critical and cannot be facilitated remotely. Provision for the school year 2020/21 should be completed within that school year. As of 22nd June 2020, no advice from Stormont has been received that changes the original advice regarding unnecessary travel.
Any work undertaken during holiday periods is voluntary and staff cannot be compelled to work.
All staff who volunteer to work additional hours beyond their contract must be remunerated and this should be agreed in advance.
Provision of materials for remote learning and all other activity associated with remote learning should cease for the duration of the holiday period.
A teacher working from home should first and foremost manage their own home life situation and their wellbeing and that of their families. Regarding work it would be advisable to split the day into routines. Perhaps in the morning for an hour email etc. In the afternoon for an hour remote learning support. You need to organise time/work that works for you. This advice will be updated as the situation develops.
Further Guidance can be found here:
Yes, you may bring your own children to school with you. But you would need to inform the principal. A principal may request the teacher does not come to school with their children if it increases the numbers and risks in their school. However, if your children are under school age they should not be brought into the school.
My child/children are under school age and would generally be minded by their grandparents, who can no longer look after them as they are identified in the vulnerable adult category, do I have to bring them to work?
Members must assess their personal risk and inform their principal where they believe they should not present to school in the interest of their own health and their families and in the interest of the public good.
To this end INTO has already published guidance to members regarding their attendance in school during this unprecedented period.
Further guidance can be found here:
INTO is advising its members that if they have a new-born baby in their household, they should not be attending school until the baby has reached 12 weeks old.
I have been asked by my principal to attend school, I am worried about my own safety if I am forced to go to school.
Unless a visit to school is business critical* then INTO advises it members that they should continue to follow the PHA advice and remain at home and do not go the school. Meetings can be facilitated remotely and in regard to going to school to prepare more work or collect books for marking, preparing wall displays and requisitions, INTO advises that it is unreasonable to expect teachers, who are working from home, to mark individual pupil’s work. In relation to attending work no advice from Stormont has been received that changes the original advice regarding unnecessary travel. Until the Department of Education publicly states that schools are reopening this advice will remain in place.
*INTO sees business critical as being those tasks which either cannot be done remotely from home, or essential undertakings that are time-bound. INTO believes that teachers should decide if requisitions and meetings can be completed electronically or remotely from home. Displays, general classroom readiness and requisition requests which are not essential at this time should be completed nearer to school reopening as part of a specifically coordinated plan.
Essentially, spending time telephoning parents/pupils has the potential to detract from the time that teachers actually have to remotely engage with pupils. While this may not be a GDPR issue, INTO have always requested its members to be cautious when contacting pupils at home, especially from their own homes or personal mobile phones. INTO must also be mindful that this practice of telephoning pupils at home, coupled with the perceptions of both pupils and parents, may have child protection issues and INTO strongly advises its members not to contact pupils directly at home.
Further guidance can be found here:
INTO is currently liaising with department of Education officials with a view to providing advice in regard to an amended or ‘light touch’ report. Until this guidance is forthcoming, INTO advises its members not to begin to write any summer reports. INTO further advises that the statutory requirement is for only one written report to be provided to a parent in any academic year. This requirement will have been fulfilled if a written report has already been provided during the current academic year. Should you have already prepared a report to go to parents at this time, INTO would suggest that it would be unreasonable to expect new reports to be prepared as a result of new guidelines from DE.
Further guidance can be found here:
I am due to return to Northern Ireland from France on Wednesday 19 August 2020. I booked this holiday as I normally do before Christmas and well before the COVID-19 crisis came upon us. What will happen if the school has reopened before I return?
Where teachers have pre-booked holidays based on agreed holiday lists in individual schools, and a final date is agreed for key year groups to return to school, they should expect that the pre-existing holiday lists would be honoured in this case. Where schools without published return dates but where teachers have acted in good faith based on average return dates from previous years it would be expected that teachers would not be penalised.
Members should be mindful that they will be expected to be available for work for their normal contractual compliment of 195 days.
If I am requested by the school to come in earlier than planned because I am a primary 7 teacher and the school will be opening on a phased return basis starting with my class, will I be expected to work more than my normal year?
Simply the answer is no. At times, a principal may not require every teacher to work on the exact same 195 calendar days or 1265 hrs.
It may be that certain teachers will be asked to return to work at different dates from others to perform specific roles, but that all teachers, irrespective of their return date, will still be subject to the normal contractual compliment of 195 days, between 1 August and 31 July.
2. Sick Leave
Paid sick leave will continue in line with the provisions already in place.
If you recover, you should indicate to your school/ principal that you are now fit for work, and you should follow the current COVID-19 advice for attending school. If you have been absent for a short-term illness, on a medical certificate ending during the current closure, the school/ principal will follow the dates of the certificate and can end the sick leave during the closure.
If you have been absent for a longer period – 4 weeks or more – you need to give a week’s notice to your principal of your intention to return to work. If you have been referred to Occupational Health, an appointment should be arranged by telephone. The procedures for return to work on the back of the OH report will apply as previously although again a return to work meeting should be facilitated by telephone.
In summary, sick leave should be treated as if the school was in operation.
Schools/ principals should continue to record and amend absences during the current closure, and the administrative aspect of sick leave will be managed as it would be if schools were open.
Sick leave should continue to be recorded, and substitute teachers who have been employed to cover the absences will remain in receipt of salary, for the duration of the medical certificate provided by a teacher.
Where a teacher is absent for a short-term illness, on a medical certificate ending during the current closure, you should follow the dates of the certificate and end the sick leave during the closure.
If a teacher has been absent for a longer period – more than 4 weeks – they must give a week’s notice of their intention to return to work. If the teacher has been referred to Occupational Health, the principal/Board of Governors must consider the OH recommendations in facilitating the teacher’s return to work provided they have been certified as fit to work in order for the school/ principal to end the period of sick leave. Any meetings should be arranged taking cognisance of the current COVID-19 advice.
In summary, sick leave should be treated as if the school was in operation.
You can only change your unpaid leave if you are either, fit to return to work or if your period of unpaid leave was granted by the Board of Governors. An early return from unpaid leave would have to be agreed by them in the same way as if the school was open.
Where a substitute was scheduled to work in the period of the school closure, then the school should continue to engage that substitute for the absence. The substitute will be paid for that scheduled absence.
Any changes to unpaid leave will be at the discretion of the Board of Governors. Board of Governors should take into account whether or not they have engaged a substitute teacher to cover a leave absence, in considering such requests.
Boards of Governors may take into account that teacher’s personal circumstances may have changed since the application for leave was made and may wish to accommodate requests on that basis.
However, a teacher who wishes to return to work before or after the specified date, whether from ordinary or additional maternity leave, must give 28 days’ notice of the date on which she wishes to return to work.
4. Substitute Teachers
Even though schools will be closed to pupils, they will remain open for staff so that they can access resource materials and make arrangements for remote learning as appropriate, to facilitate provision for vulnerable children and those of key workers, and be available to carry out other duties that principals may require of them.
All employees will receive normal pay across the range of circumstances that we are facing whether they remain in the workplace, are working from home or are unable to carry on working due to circumstances beyond their control. Substitute teachers will also receive their normal pay for the period of time that they have been engaged to work.
This includes any engagements currently registered on the NISTR system AND any engagements which have been verbally agreed between the school and the substitute teacher.
Education Minister Peter Weir has announced a scheme to help support substitute teachers during the Covid-19 crisis. Substitute teachers have been unable to access secure work as schools are closed except for vulnerable children and those of key workers. The scheme will ensure that eligible substitute teachers, engaged between 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020, will have access to an income for the period April to June 2020. They will receive an additional income through this scheme which will top up their income to at least 80% of that earned in the period January to March 2020.
Access to this fund is by application using this link:
During this school closure substitute teachers will receive their normal pay for the period of time that they have been engaged to work. This includes any engagements currently registered on the NISTR system AND any engagements which have been verbally agreed between the school and the substitute teacher.
5. PRSD and Pay Progression
Because of COVID-19 I am unable to complete my PRSD which I need to advance up the upper pay scale. What will happen?
Because observations cannot be conducted during the Coronavirus epidemic, they will have to be postponed. Also given that UPS movement is usually not signed off by principals until October each year, INTO will be requesting that when schools reconvene for the 2020/21 academic term that they use September to carry out the missed observations from the 2019/20 academic year.
INTO pressed EA to introduce a COVID-19 waiver similar to the maternity waiver and has been successful in achieving this as outlined in the letter in the link below:
6. Coronavirus (COVID-19): Implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings in NI Guidance: 27 March 2020
No. Only children from the defined groups who cannot be safely cared for at home. This will help to limit the chance of them both catching and spreading the virus.
Does this guidance change the previous advice about teachers with underlying health conditions remaining at home?
No. This changes nothing. INTO’s advice in regard to teachers with underlying conditions teaching remotely from home remains. Also, teachers with caring responsibilities for people with underlying health conditions should also teach remotely from home.
Simply put, pupils can only be accommodated in schools if stringent social distancing can be adhered to.
- Inform parents of exactly what is expected from children
- Schools should not have any unnecessary visitors
- Ensure small class sizes
- Stagger school starting and finishing times
- Stagger lunch and break times
Will I have to provide a certificate from my doctor to confirm medical information I have provided to school?
This may be required by the school but can be obtained retrospectively.
7. Hub Schools / Volunteering Scheme
Hub schools are schools that will be the main school open in an area to accommodate key workers children and vulnerable children. Other schools in the area may have very small numbers of children attending so by clustering schools together only one school need open, the Hub school.
There would be an agreed designated principal of the Hub school who would be in charge but other principals of schools that are contributing to the Hub school may be involved in the co-ordination and running of said Hub school. Management authorities have nominated a number of representatives to facilitate the organisation of Hub schools. See DE FAQs number 24
Hub schools will obviously take a few days to organise, but it is expected that most will be up and running from Monday 30th March 2020.
Hub/Cluster schools are schools that will be the main school open in an area to accommodate key workers children and vulnerable children. All staff who are available for work within the PHA guidelines, can be asked to attend the school in which they are employed. Where a school has become part of a hub/cluster, these teachers can be asked to attend the cluster school. Staff should be told at least 24 hours before (where practical) if they are required the next day and they should be sent home as early as possible in the case that they are not needed.
School leaders, including principals/playgroup leaders, vice-principals and senior teachers, from across the schools in the hub/cluster should agree a rota, perhaps on a weekly basis with a core team assuming the remit of ‘Leader in Charge’.
The leader in charge will determine the number of children that can be safely accommodated in the school in line with PHA guidance on social distancing.
The cluster school will be registered with the Department of Education (DE) which provides appropriate indemnity for schools and staff, including the volunteers. The chair of governors should be informed of the use of the school building for the C-19 cluster.
For the individual schools and the C-19 cluster schools, the employing authorities and DE will have governance responsibility.
The hub/cluster school will apply the safeguarding and child protection regulations as outlined in DE Circular 2017/04. A simplified version of the safeguarding arrangements and the safeguarding flowchart, with clear information for all staff, including volunteers will be available to all clusters from the CPSS.
Designated and Deputy Designated teachers, available for work within PHA guidelines, should be included in staff rotas; in the event that designated, and deputy designated teachers are unavailable, the flowchart will provide clear information for the leader in charge and CPSS will be available to advise.
Where possible, a child’s school should pass on any relevant medical, safeguarding or SEN information to the leader in charge. This will not always be possible due to staff absence as a result of illness or self-isolation. It will be important that parents provide this information. Where this information is not made available the Leader in Charge will wish to factor this into the Risk Assessment they will be carrying out.
Schools will open for the normal hours, usually. However, this may change as the situation evolves. In this event INTO will issue further advice.
Schools are directed to practise social distancing as per PHA advice and to ensure the minimum number of pupils are placed in a classroom to ensure everyone’s safety. Safety trumps all other considerations.
My principal insists that I should be coming to work even though I have explained that I am unwell. What should I do?
No. Hub schools may well continue to open in the evenings and weekends to accommodate the working cycle of key workers. INTO advice is that vulnerable children should not be included in evening or weekend supervision. The supervision of children on evenings and weekends will be on a voluntary basis only. Any member, permanent or substitute who volunteers to work extra hours on evenings or weekends should fill in a TR269 form to receive pay for extra hours. Where possible principals should employ substitute teachers for supervision cover during evenings, weekends and holiday periods.
Any principal who volunteers to work extra hours on evenings or weekends should fill in a TR269 form to receive pay for extra hours.
Staff should be told at least 24 hours before (where practical) if they are required the next day and they should be sent home as early as possible in the case that they are not needed.
Where a child has previously displayed significant behaviour issues, schools should carry out a risk assessment. Where schools are unable to guarantee ‘social distancing’ in relation to a particular child, schools should contact parents to make alternative provision for their child. Safety trumps all other considerations.
On Friday 27 March the Education Minister sent a communication to all teachers in relation to COVID-19: Our Schools Need You. This letter would appear to be targeted at workers other than teachers and support staff already employed in schools.
Given that those employed in schools are already engaged in online learning and supervision of children of Key Workers, and it would therefore not be practical to volunteer for such a scheme at this time.
Schools in deficit do not need to seek permission from the EA with regard to additional expenses incurred from operational costs for instance increased utility bills and staff pay due to extra opening. Schools must record and document all the additional costs incurred, then apply to EA to have them reimbursed later.
Yes, this will be a distinct possibility if there are not sufficient numbers of staff available. If this is the case, then employing authorities will investigate the possibility of using staff from different schools.