Teachers' employment rights summary: state sector in Northern Ireland

Please note: the ATL website is no longer being updated and will be taken down soon.

Visit the new NEU website

Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
The following is a summary of the statutory rights of classroom teachers in the state sector in Northern Ireland. Principals and deputy principals may have different entitlements in some areas.

The employment of teachers in Northern Ireland is governed by a collective agreement called the Teachers' (Terms and Conditions of Employment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1987, which sets out the general terms and conditions for teachers. This agreement is generally known as the Jordanstown Agreement.

The following covers your rights under the Jordanstown Agreement, as well as the minimum rights you are entitled to under general employment law. In addition, your contractual rights may be affected by locally negotiated agreements.

Your right to a statement of particulars of employment

  • Your employer has a legal duty to give you a written statement of the particulars of your employment within two months of you starting your job. The statement should contain, for example, your hours of work, holiday entitlement, place of work, etc.
  • Your employer should also state the title of your job and a brief description of the work for which you are employed.
  • ATL recommends that you should be given a proper job description that outlines your particular role and duties, as this helps to clarify your role and define your workload.

Working hours and workload

The main provisions on workload are as follows.

Reasonableness: the teacher should carry out duties "under the reasonable direction of the principal". The concept of what is 'reasonable' underpins the Jordanstown Agreement.

Main duties: the agreement sets out general duties, including teaching, assessment, performance review, training and development, maintaining discipline, staff meetings, undertaking and organising cover, public examinations, management, administration and other duties.

Working time: the main provisions are as follows:

  • teachers should be available for work on 195 days in any year (ie from 31 July)
  • not more than 190 days should involve teaching children
  • teachers should be available to perform for 1265 hours in any year (excluding time spent off school premises in preparing and marking lessons or time spent travelling to and from work)
  • there should be no more than 25 hours a week direct teaching in primary schools
  • there should be no more than 23.5 hours a week direct teaching in any week in secondary schools
  • teachers are not required to do midday supervision (unless employed under a separate contract)
  • teachers should get a break of at least 30 minutes between 12 noon and 2pm (12 noon to 2.30pm in nursery and primary schools).

Cover: the main provisions are as follows:

  • in large schools (more than 222 pupils enrolled), teachers are required to undertake cover only for the first two days (the teacher is not required to undertake cover if the period of absence of two days or more was known about in advance by the employing authorities)
  • in small schools (fewer than 222 pupils enrolled), the teacher is required to undertake cover only for the first day (the teacher is not required to undertake cover if the period of absence of one day or more was known about in advance by the employing authorities).

There has been an increasing impetus over recent years for schools to respect the work-life balance of their teaching staff but, unlike in England and Wales, there is no requirement on headteachers to "have regard to the desirability of all teachers...being able to achieve a satisfactory balance between the time required to discharge their professional duties and the time required to pursue their personal interests outside work."

Although the Department of Education's guidance on bureaucratic burden is often vague, ATL takes the view that you cannot be required routinely to undertake tasks of a clerical or administrative nature. The test here is whether the task calls for the exercise of a teacher's professional skills or judgment. For example, routine photocopying does not call for the exercise of a teacher's professional skill. For more on the national agreement on workload in England and Wales, including administrative duties, see our workload section.

Holiday

You cannot be required to undertake duties on any of the 170 calendar days that are not specified as working days by the school.

Special leave

A host of Department of Education circulars cover leave of absence for different reasons.

For detailed information about leaves of absence of more than three days, view the circular number 1993/31.

For detailed information about leaves of absence of less than three days, view the circular number 1990/32.

ATL recommends that each school has its own special leave policy and that it is applied in a fair, consistent and transparent manner.

Right to time off in case of family emergency

You have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off in the case of a family emergency. LA policies on such leave might also apply to schools.

In some cases, you may have the right to a number of days of paid leave. Individual schools/ELBs/employers have their own policies in place and you should check these.

Notice periods

Teachers (and the school) must give notice as follows:

  • two months notice if your intention is to leave on 31 December
  • two months notice if your intention is to leave on 30 April
  • four months notice if your intention is to leave on 31 August.

Please note: If you wish to leave on a date which is not one of the three dates listed above it is entirely at the discretion of your school as to whether to allow you to do this. If the school does not allow you to leave on your chosen date, and you do so anyway, you will be in breach of your contract of employment.

Teachers on two or more fixed-term contracts

If you have been employed on two or more fixed-term contracts for four years, you have the right to a permanent contract of employment unless the school can provide objective justification not to make you a permanent employee. Contact ATL as outlined below for more information.

Your right to request to stay on at work after you turn 65

You do not have to retire at 60. Regardless of what it says in your contract, you have a right to work until you are 65 if you wish. If your school attempts to force you to retire at 60 it must provide objective justification for this.

You also have the right to request to stay on in employment at the school after the age of 65, and the right to be accompanied by your ATL representative during this process. However, the school is not legally obliged to grant your request.

If you have any queries about your statutory rights, please contact ATL as outlined below.

See also