Teachers in schools in Northern Ireland can be reasonably requested to cover for an absent colleague in some circumstances, but only if such cover does not exceed the maximum teaching hours in any week, ie 25 hours in primary and special schools and 23.5 hours in a secondary school.

Cover must be allowed for in the individual teacher’s time budget.

When can a teacher be asked to cover or supervise?

In schools of 222 or more pupils:

  • when a colleague is absent for one or two days, subject to the maximum class contact limit of 23.5 or 25 hours;

  • when covering for a primary 1, 2 or nursery colleague at any time, subject to the maximum class contact limit of 25 hours;

  • if it was not known that the absence would exceed two days - teachers can cover on the first and second day only, other than for primary 1, 2 or nursery colleagues.

When can a teacher not be asked to cover or supervise?

  • Teachers cannot be asked to cover at all (or supervise) when it was known and agreed in advance that an absence would exceed two days (other than covering for primary 1, 2 or nursery colleagues).

  • Teachers in schools of fewer than 222 pupils, nursery (in primary school), primary 1 and primary 2 teachers are not required to provide such cover.

Time set aside for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) cannot be used for cover.

Can I be asked to supervise, but not cover for an absent colleague?

Supervision occurs when a teacher is asked to engage in activities outside the classroom where there is no active teaching taking place. Examples include breaktime and bus duty. Teachers can be asked to carry out this supervision provided:

  • it has been allowed for in the time budget;

  • the conditions in the question 'When can a teacher be asked to cover or supervise?' are met.

In exceptional circumstances, a teacher may be required to supervise, as distinct from teach, the class of an absent colleague. This still has to be accounted for within directed time.

All this information is contained within the TNC 2020 Agreement Between Management and Trade Union Side of the Teachers’ Negotiating Committee.

If your school is in breach of the agreement from 1 September 2020, please contact the NASUWT.