Lunch duty: Can I be required to do this?

Lunch duty: Can I be required to do this?


We have covered the aspects of break times in this linked article. However, specifically on the topic of lunch duty: What can you be asked to do?

The length of the lunchtime varies across the education sector with some schools having as little as 30 minutes and varying up to an hour in some schools.

Where split lunchtimes are used to allow all the school to access the dining facilities, this further confuses the timetable around lunch. The question: “lunch duty: Can I be required to do this?” is common.

What is the time I am allowed?

Each school’s working day is governed by directed time and by the additional time which is reasonable to be able to effectively discharge your professional duties. Built into this is the expectation that you can have a break of reasonable length. 

The School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) says: “A teacher who is required to be available for work for more than one school session on any school day must be allowed one break of reasonable length either between school sessions or between the hours of 12 noon and 2.00pm”.

For schools who do not work within STPCD, then your contract and terms and conditions will guide you.

Of course the issue here is what defines ‘reasonable’. You cannot assume that the length of lunchtime for staff equates to the length of time for pupils. In general, it is. However, where the lunch break for pupils is say an hour, there may be an expectation for staff that they are ‘on duty’ for the first and last five minutes of the pupils’ lunch break to assist in clearing buildings, escorting pupils or to perform other tasks.

Where this is the case then this should be clearly set out in the Directed Time budget or stipulated in contractual terms and conditions. 

What about the headteacher?

Members of the leadership team are entitled to this reasonable length break also. In practice they are more likely to be supporting the lunch times of pupils and so can take this break at another time of the working day. 

The only significant difference for the headteacher is that whilst a headteacher is entitled to a break of reasonable length in the course of each school day, they must arrange for a suitable person to assume responsibility for the discharge of their functions as headteacher during that break.

What about morning and afternoon breaks?

Morning and afternoon breaks are directed time. This means that staff can be allocated a task to complete at that time. Usually this is being on duty supervising pupils. Again, in practice, this tends not to happen every day but the flexibility to call on staff is there.

Staff not on a teaching contract generally have unpaid breaks and, as directed time does not apply to them, they can use this time as they wish. Support staff should ensure they are clear on their contract and job descriptions to understand when they are expected to work.

Support Staff: job descriptions

Terms and conditions for support staff are district from those of teaching staff. So, on lunch duty: Can I be required to do this? It depends. To allow adequate supervision at lunchtime, sometimes lunch duty is written into contract and job descriptions. If this is the case then a reasonable break is still needed so must be built into their working day, albeit not at the same time as pupils. 

In cases where lunch duty is not a part of the job description, the school may have clauses that refer to reasonable requests and so ask staff to be on duty. That said the reasonable length break must be in place.

Can I volunteer to be on duty and be paid?

It is your choice if you choose to work during your ‘reasonable length’ break. Clearly, pupils need supervision at lunchtime and there has to be sufficient people on duty to keep them safe and be adequately supervised. Schools therefore sometimes will offer to pay staff to be on duty. 

This is sometimes formally arranged with a separate contract. Sometimes it is much more informal where they are paid in ‘free lunches’ or similar. This is fine because this is not directed time and they could leave the site and go home if they wished.

In summary, as long as you get a break of a reasonable length where you are not being directed, then the school are abiding by their obligations. Do check your contract and job description for the fine detail.

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