Making calls home: NEU advice

With schools remaining closed to the vast majority of children, many will be feeling a sense of dislocation and may be missing seeing familiar friends and faces.

NEU members are contacting us for advice on whether they should be calling families at home, and speaking to individual children in their class.

The NEU believes that there is real value in staff making “welfare” calls to speak to children and check how they are getting on.

Many members are already making these calls and there is evidence that they are welcome by parents, and that children are quite excited to speak to their teacher for a few minutes.

However, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed if schools are considering this. This briefing addresses some of those.

Where schools are considering making calls to families, it should be discussed with staff and their union Reps and a protocol agreed.

  • Calling a class of children is likely to take a long time so the impact on other work must be considered.
  • The NEU believes that for any call home the emphasis must be on welfare not checking on work.
  • Calls by teachers or support staff, should be separate to calls to vulnerable children, which will be carried out by the designated safeguarding leads.
  • Clear safeguarding advice should be issued by SLT before calling home takes place.
  • No member of staff should be forced to do this if they do not want – it should be a voluntary exercise.
  • Where possible, the school should invest in software that enables calls to come from a central hub – Call Hub and C3X and two examples – another option is for schools to purchase dedicated phones for staff.
  • Staff should not be expected to make video calls to families and children.
  • If schools are sharing data with staff, all efforts must be made to keep this secure – we recommend staff logging on to the school server as the best option.
  • Where a member of staff is willing to use their own phone, the school should state explicitly that they have permission to do this – clearly any expenses incurred should be reimbursed.
  • Where a member of staff is using their own phone, they should take all necessary precautions to withhold their number and to delete family numbers after use.
  • We recommend that the frequency of calls should be no more than fortnightly.

When staff are calling home, we recommend the following outline:

  • Ask to speak to parent first and give them your name and explain why you are calling.
  • Ask to speak to the child – this could involve the parent and child being on speaker phone together.
  • Keep conversations short, supportive and professional – focus on what the child wants to talk about.
  • Not all children will want to talk to a staff member and there should be no attempt to force this.
  • Do not share personal information on the call.
  • Ask to speak to adult at end of conversation.
  • If there are any concerns following the call, normal reporting procedures should be followed.
  • Please remember that some families will be observing Ramadan so calls should be made later in the day.

We will issue further updates but please do check the NEU website and contact us if you have any concerns about any aspect of this situation.

Coronavirus Update: 3rd April 2020

Today would have been the last day of term in Tower Hamlets schools and we hope that you and other colleagues will be able to get some well earned rest.
The last two weeks have been incredibly challenging for school staff and we know that there has been some fantastic efforts made across Tower Hamlets to meet the needs of the children and families in our schools.
The NEU has been working hard to provide updated advice and guidance for members and as a result of our work the Union has gained over 5,000 new members and over 250 new school Reps since March 21st.
Most schools are closing over Easter, although some  schools are remaining open to provide childcare for vulnerable children or children of key workers. Where schools are open over Easter, staffing should be on a voluntary basis and every effort should be made to ensure that all staff have a designated two week holiday.
It now looks like schools will not go back for most, if not all,of next term so we will be working with the LA and heads to make sure workable plans are in place for the next period. It’s possible that the number of children in schools will increase nest term. It will continue to be important that NEU Reps are involved in any decision making.
Some consideration is being given to setting up hubs, grouping small numbers of children together from neighbouring schools. See this link for some NEU guidance for some NEU guidance on hubs – please have a look at this, discuss it with your headteacher, and get in touch if this is being discussed in your school.
We have had some queries about working from home and what are reasonable expectations. Here is the NEU guidance but do get in touch if there are concerns about this at your school.
Many of us will be anxious about how our most vulnerable children are getting on and it is important that measures are in place to support them. In doing this it is also important that school staff are not expected to substitute for social workers or welfare officers. The NEU has issued some guidance on this.
We would like Reps to join us for a Zoom meeting after the Easter break and will send you details of this on Monday 20th April.
Please stay safe and look after your loved ones – and have as good a break as you possibly can.

Coronavirus update: Joint NEU, ASCL, NAHT advice

Joint Union Advice

The NEU has now published joint guidance with NAHT and ASCL, which will be useful in our ongoing discussions – the guidance is here:
We will be holding another Zoom meeting at 4pm on Friday to hear what is happening in schools and answer any questions you may have.
To join the meeting follow this link
Meeting ID Number: 614 115 7814

Coronavirus Update: 25th March 2020

Reps Video Drop in

You are invited to take part in a Reps Video Drop-In on Friday 27th March @ 4pm-5pm.
MEETING ID: 614-115-7814

General Guidance and Advice

A reminder that NEU advice is that the following people should be staying at home:

·       those who have developed a consistent cough or fever

·       those who are in one of the vulnerable groups identified by the government

·       those who live with, or care for someone, in one of the vulnerable groups

We are also advising against using public transport in order to decrease the risk of spreading the virus.

Children in schools

The information we have is that there are small numbers of children attending schools this week and that most schools are keeping staffing to a minimum. The Local Authority plans to keep the current arrangements in place until Easter and then, if the numbers seem constant, to consider moving to a “hub system” based in neighbourhoods.
Our view is that a hub system would need to establish a maximum number of children and minimum staffing levels. We will keep you posted about discussions on this.
Please do keep us updated about your school, especially if you have any concerns you would like us to raise.

Easter Opening

The situation with Easter opening is still not clear. Tower Hamlets will be running their normal holiday provision but it may be that some schools are asked to remain open. The NEU position is that working at Easter must be voluntary and staff should either be paid for this or have the equivalent time designated as the holiday either before or after the break. More news on this as we get it.

Home Working

Where people are working at home we believe that they should be trusted to do this. It is reasonable to ask staff to check in by email or to take part in conference calls.
We do not think staff should be expected to be online all day or to provide a daily log of their work. If you have any concerns about this please contact us.

Keep in touch with NEU members

As this situation develops NEU members will have many questions, so please do make sure you find ways of keeping in touch and letting us know if there anything we can do.
Don’t forget you can find updated advice on the NEU website
Thanks for all you are doing to support NEU members in your school.

Coronavirus Update and workplace survey: 22nd March 2020

We would be very grateful if you could spare a few minutes to complete this survey on how your school is responding to closure and what arrangements are being put in place.
We are working with the Local Authority and headteachers to manage the situation and want to have as much information as possible to feed into these discussions.
Here is  our latest briefing: Coronavirus_briefing_No.2
This was emailed to members this morning. We have also posted the text at the end of this blog.
Our briefings are being well received by members and we are answering questions as quickly as we can. The national NEU website is being updated every day.
The situation is clearly now very serious. Sadiq Khan on the Andrew Marr show has said:
“Do not leave your home, do not use public transport UNLESS it is absolutely necessary – this will save lives and protect the NHS. This is not advice, it is an instruction.”
This means schools will need to review their arrangements on a daily basis, but it is clearly now not acceptable for schools to expect all staff to report for work.
Thanks for your time on this – please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any advice.
22nd March 2020

Text of Coronavirus Briefing No. 2

Tower Hamlets NEU Branch

Briefing for NEU Reps

Subject: Coronavirus update: school closure

The purpose of this briefing is to update members on the latest situation and NEU advice, following the government’s decision to ask schools to close until further notice, other than for the most vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

It is important to note that the government decision is based on reducing the occupancy rate of school buildings to around 10%, and to increase the number of people working at home.

Government advice is that anyone who can work at home should do so and anyone who can keep their child at home should do so – NHS workers are asking people to stay at home if at all possible.

ALL decisions about school opening and staffing levels should flow from that. It would make no sense for all staff to be at work – that would defeat the object of the exercise, which is to minimise travel and contact.


There are three groups of staff, who should definitely be working from home:

  • those who have developed a consistent cough or fever
  • those who are in one of the vulnerable groups identified by the government
  • those who live with, or care for someone, in one of the vulnerable groups


The only children in school from next Monday should be children of key workers, or other vulnerable children, who really can’t find an alternative. We are driving down the number of children in school to stop the spread of the virus.


Once the school has established the number of children who will be attending, the head should determine the minimum number of staff needed to provide safe childcare for them. This may mean asking staff to volunteer or be on a rota. The NEU is encouraging members to work on a rota in schools – unless they are in one of the government’s vulnerable groups, or caring for someone in one of those groups.


Staff may be asked to work from home. Expectations for those working at home should be reasonable and should be discussed with staff. They should not attempt to replicate the school day and should also take account of individual circumstances.


All staff should continue to receive full pay, including those who are self-isolating. Supply teachers are in a different position and the NEU is trying to address their situation.


The government has said that they want schools to continue with this provision during the Easter holiday. At the moment we have no other information on this but we will address when we know more.


We do recommend that you stay in touch with colleagues and fellow union members. Departments and union groups can set up Zoom meetings and WhatsApp groups. Be a collective and get colleagues to join the NEU.


We expect heads to consult with NEU Reps and staff about all matters arising from this crisis – this will only work with the maximum buy-in. This is supported by the NAHT advice to headteachers, “It will be impossible to build the team response you will need if you rely on compulsion. That will lead to resentment and people will simply stay away using “isolation” to legitimise their absence. This effort cannot be about compulsion. Success will be borne out of mutual respect, understanding and support.”

We are getting hundreds of queries and we are answering them as quickly as we can. We will issue further updates but please do check the NEU website and contact us if you have any concerns about any aspect of this situation.

Coronavirus Update: 19th March 2020

The situation with Covid-19 is changing rapidly and the NEU is working hard to keep on top of things and make sure that Reps and members have all the information you need.
Locally we are included in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets planning team for schools and children’s services, so we will be able to update you as soon any decisions affecting schools are made.
Here is a quick update.
The situation will be changing on a daily basis and we believe that NEU Reps should be as close to decision making as possible. Successful planning for the next few months is going to rely on a lot of goodwill from staff, so it is important that decisions are not just imposed upon us, but are subject to discussion and agreement. We recommend that NEU Reps ask for regular meetings with your head to discuss operational plans.
The government decision is based on there being an average occupancy rate of school buildings of about 20%.
So schools are being asked to identify what staffing will be necessary to do that, once the list of students is known.
This may mean that staff work on a rota basis but does not mean that all staff need to be in work all the time – that would defeat the object of the exercise which is to minimise travel and contact.
Staff who are not showing any symptoms and are fit for work, can be expected to be in work or to be available to work from home. Expectations for those working at home should be reasonable and should be discussed with staff. Please contact us if you have any concerns about this.
The government has said that they want schools to continue with this provision during the Easter holiday. At this stage we have no further information on this but this will be on the agenda for our meeting with the Council planning team.
There should be no question of anyone losing pay through this crisis. All staff who have a contract with the school, including those who are self-isolating, should remain on full pay.Supply teachers are in a different position and the NEU is trying to address their situation.
The NEU believes that supply teachers who are on a long-term contract should be treated in the same way as permanent staff and continue to be paid. 
We are considering setting up a WhatsApp group for school Reps so that we can share information and advice quickly and Reps can help each other out by sharing what is happening in their schools. If you would like to join this group please text me on 07973 913 123.
Finally, it won’t surprise you to know that we have cancelled our meeting on Monday and all District meetings until further notice. We will be looking at using Zoom if we need to call a meeting for Reps to discuss any urgent business.

We will be sending regular updates and you may need to find ways of sharing these with colleagues and seeing their views if you are not able to call meetings.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for advice and support.
NEU Coronavirus updates – this is being updated at least daily.

Coronavirus Update: NEU letter to Boris Johnson 17th March 2020

The National Education Union has written to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling for the Government to close schools and colleges and protect vulnerable educators or those caring for at risk family members.

We are also calling on the Government to fund and plan limited school opening for the children of key workers, those on free school meals and other children in need.

See below for the text of the letter

Download a PDF of this letter: NEU Boris Johnson letter 17 March 2020

Click here for  NEU advice on Coronavirus

Click here for NEU advice for reps in schools

Click here for NEU advice for supply members

Letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson
10 Downing Street

17 March 2020

Dear Prime Minister

We write again following your announcements yesterday and our letter of Saturday.

In that letter we pointed to an apparent contradiction between bans on large gatherings and a refusal to close schools.

We also said we thought that it was important to engage with all the science and appealed for more information to be released on the modelling and on the effects on vulnerable school and college teachers, other staff and parents.

We have not yet seen that further information.

You announced yesterday that vulnerable people are to confine themselves for 12 weeks from this weekend.

On our understanding this includes:

  • pregnant women.

and those who are suffering from:

We assume that on this basis teachers and other school and college staff who have these conditions or who are caring for people with those conditions, or who are over 70 should self-isolate.

We intend to advise all our members in these categories or caring for people in them to stop attending schools and colleges from next Monday at the latest. Some will do so earlier.

We also assume that the children of parents with those conditions should also avoid school or college.

This will make the running of schools all the more complicated.

Given your failure to release modelling comparing different scenarios of school closures, we are now forced to call on you to close schools, at least for some time and at least in some areas.

We know that very many of our members who aren’t in the categories of heightened risk would be willing to volunteer to play a role in helping our society get through this crisis.

We suggest during a period of full school closure that teachers and school leaders could work on plans for more limited opening to:

  • ensure that we can look after the children of parents who must do the work our society needs – including NHS staff, food and distribution workers, police, prison and fire brigade staff and those who are working to produce medical equipment, including hopefully industries being re purposed to produce ventilators;
  • ensure that children on free school meals or otherwise in food poverty can eat nutritious meals;
  • support other children in need.

Of course, this could not be a full opening and it would mean substantial changes from the way schools are normally run – but we believe schools could be important community hubs. This in turn requires that SATs are abandoned and that you produce proposals on the inevitable widespread disruption to GCSE and A -level exams.

Supply teachers would also be willing to help in such ways and in any event need your support during school closure or self-isolation.

We look forward to your engagement with these ideas and we remain, as before, ready to meet with you and the Secretary of State for education.

Given the number of staff and pupils that will now be off school, teachers and leaders will simply have to exercise their professional discretion about whether schools and colleges open and what work is undertaken – and they should do so with your approval.

We will support them in so doing.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, joint general secretaries, National Education Union


Download a PDF of this letter: NEU Boris Johnson letter 17 March 2020

Click here for  NEU advice on Coronavirus

Click here for NEU advice for reps in schools

Click here for NEU advice for supply members

March Update


To answer some of the questions we have been getting, we have produced this briefing on Covid-19 and its potential to impact on schools – please download it and discuss with colleagues in your school.

We will provide updates as the situation changes, and we will discussing this at our planned meeting on Monday 23rd March (see below for information).

1265 hours and directed time

Our meeting on 23rd March will also feature a discussion on the NEU’s latest advice and campaign materials on workload, 1265 hours and Directed Time. We want to use these materials to support members in schools in the summer term. We will be joined by Henry Fowler from the campaigns team at NEU HQ. You can download the campaign materials here and we will have copies available at the meeting.

NEU/Unison strike action

Our planned strike action in LA community schools is going ahead, starting with one day on Tuesday 24th March is going ahead. We will email members in those schools with the arrangements, and you will be updated if the situation changes.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any advice or have any questions about any of the above.

Next General Members Meetiang 23rd March 2020

15th March 2020

Coronavirus NEU Advice

The situation with Coronavirus is changing rapidly and so is the advice from government, medical experts and other bodies including the NEU and other unions. The NEU has published advice and guidance on the website and this will be updated as when necessary.

At the moment there are no plans for schools to close, but this may change. We understand that schools will be preparing for this. NEU Joint General Secretaries, Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, have written to the Prime Minister to ask why aren’t schools closing if mass gatherings are to be suspended?

The purpose of this briefing is to provide Reps and members with some guidance on some questions we have been asked and matters that should be discussed in school.

Some of these things may be happening in your school already, but we suggest that you call a meeting and seek reassurances from your headteacher. 

  • SELF-ISOLATION: Government advice is that anyone who develops a persistent cough or fever should self-isolate for a period of seven days. Where this happens it should not be treated as sickness absence and the member of staff should continue to receive full pay. You do not need a GP certificate to cover this period of isolation. Staff who are self-isolating, may be asked to do work at home if possible.
  • CORONAVIRUS: Where a member of staff does contract Coronavirus their absence should be recorded as sickness. However, their absence for this reason should not be counted as part of the trigger for sickness monitoring or review meetings.
  • PRE-EXISTING MEDICAL CONDITIONS: We advise that colleagues with pre-existing medical conditions seek advice from their GP and if advised to stay off work this should be confirmed in writing.
  • RISK ASSESSMENTS: We advise that schools should carry out risk assessments for vulnerable staff including those with disabilities, staff who are pregnant or who are immunocompromised (such as anyone undergoing treatment for cancer, HIV+ etc).
  • AGENCY STAFF: The NEU has issued advice for agency staff who are unable to work. We believe that staff who are on long-term placement with a school should continue to be paid.
  • DIRECTED TIME: We advise Reps to ask heads for a review of Directed Time activities such as parents meetings, school trips. Are these absolutely necessary? Can they be organised in another way?
  • LEAVE OF ABSENCE: We believe that the current arrangements for taking time off to care for a sick dependent should be relaxed to take account of the current crisis.
  • EXAMS: Exam boards are monitoring the situation and preparing for contingencies should there be long-term school closures. Ofqual have already produced initial guidance and the NEU will engage with exam authorities through this process.
  • COVER: Cover policies should not be changed in the light of this crisis. NEU does not support doubling up of classes and where this is being suggested you should contact us for advice.
  • HYGIENE: we think there should be a review of cleaning routines, particularly in respect of handles and swtiches. All toilet and washing facilities should contain sufficient soap and water to allow users to wash their hands, which can help eliminate or reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

This situation is changing rapidly and we will attempt to keep you updated with current advice. Please do not hesitate to contact the NEU if you need any advice or guidance.

You can download a copy of this guidance here

Other NEU advice on Coronavirus here

NEU statement on Coronavirus and class size here

Campaigns Update: February 2020

Ballot Bake Off!

One of our reps has done a bit of baking with a specialised topping…

He used a company called Eat Your Photo.

“They went down really well. They were a useful way to remind people to vote.

If you would like to so something like this we can reimburse the cost – here is an image of the artwork you can send them: TH-NEU-ballot-sticker-PRINT

Another of our reps has sent this photo in of ballots completed by members in her school. She tells us 100% of ballots have now been sent off.



Screen Shot 2020-01-28 at 09.07.32

We are aware that a letter is being circulated in schools which wrongly suggests that proposed changes to terms and conditions will not affect school staff and that our ballot may be unlawful.

Please reassure NEU colleagues that our ballot is entirely lawful, and that I am in regular contact with the relevant staff at NEU HQ throughout this process.

We are balloting because Tower Hamlets, as our employer, is asking schools to consider adopting the proposals in Tower Rewards, which will worsen our contractual terms and conditions. They are doing this without consulting the NEU, or other unions, via our established negotiating forum. Unison are also balloting their members, including school support staff – NEU and Unison are the two largest unions in Tower Hamlets.

The circulation of this letter is a deliberate attempt to cause confusion and our best response is to build the strongest possible vote in our ballot, which I know you are doing.
Screen Shot 2020-01-28 at 09.07.38

12 VOTES = 1%

Remember, just 12 votes is all it takes to increase the vote by 1%, so please do everything you can to build the vote stage by stage – here are some ideas:

  • staffroom ballot box – make a ballot box for the staffroom or for your meeting
  • baking for ballots – one Rep baked brownies to give to members in return for their completed ballot paper
  • NEU visit to the post box – organise a lunchtime or after school visit for NEU members to post their ballots together – send us a photo
  • I voted Yes photos – please print off copies of the attached sign and take a photo in your school meeting for us to share


Please try to keep a tally of how many people have voted in your school and let me know on the Friday of each week – this will help us target some of our energies.
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