Marking and Assessment Boycott FAQs
Guidance on taking part in the Marking and Assessment Boycott.
On this page
- General information
- Notifiying the University
- Deductions and lockout
- Support for members
- After the marking and assessment boycott
- How to have good conversations about the marking and assessment boycott
1. What is a marking and assessment boycott (MAB)?
A marking and assessment boycott (MAB) means that you should refuse to carry out any duties relating to marking and assessment. It is particularly important that you do not upload any grades, to Turnitin or commit them to writing on any university system or script. However, you should expect and offer to carry on with your other duties as normal (unless the university enters into what is known as a lockout).
If you are not scheduled or asked to carry out any duties relating to marking and assessment, you should work as normal during this period. However, if you are subsequently asked to carry out such duties, you should refuse to do so.
No colleague should under any circumstances mark work that was previously assigned to another colleague who is participating in the boycott. This undermines the marking boycott, the sacrifices of your colleagues, and academic standards.
2. What does the boycott cover? What should I do/not do?
A marking and assessment boycott covers all processes that contribute to summative assessment decisions for students/learners, whether final (i.e. graduation/completion) or interim (i.e. progression decisions).
Once the boycott is live UCU members should cease undertaking all summative marking and associated assessment activities/duties.
You should not mark any UG and/or PG summative assessment e.g.
- coursework and exams;
- field work, exhibits, practical work, scientific experiments etc.
You should not hold PhD final vivas or MPhil-to-PhD progression/confirmation vivas/assessments.
You should not do any assessment-related administrative work, e.g.
- processing of marks, including transferring & calculating marks;
- changing setting up/editing assessments on Blackboard;
- investigating plagiarism;
- invigilation of exams;
- set exam questions for exams that have not been written yet;
- submission of completed marking through any University administrative procedures;
- preparation for exam/assessment boards/meetings;
- facilitation of PhD vivas or MPhil-to-PhD progression/confirmation assessments;
- attending exam boards/meetings.
Things you can do include:
- pastoral work (including submission of university forms such as ECs, reassuring students that their work will be marked eventually, etc);
- permitting students to submit work for assessments which have already been set. This includes the picking up of physical exam scripts from an exams office, as this is part of the submission process, and not part of the assessment process.
Extenuating Circumstances, Special cases & EC boards
You should permit students to submit EC forms, and extensions for existing coursework can be granted as they fall within the students right to submit.
If you think it is essential to the well-being of the student that they receive an indication of what the outcome of their EC form is likely to be, then you can suggest to the student what a likely outcome would be, as such discussions fall under the remit of pastoral care of the student. In such cases, passing on the EC to the appropriate member of staff who is in the best position to advise about what a likely outcome would be, may also be appropriate.
Special cases & extenuating circumstances boards/meetings, where decisions are made that can/ will affect final module marks (for example whether to NA a module, or offer an uncapped resit assessment element for a student), and these decisions are formally recorded, should be considered as marking and assessment related activities preparatory to exam boards and should be boycotted.
Students with LSPs
Where a student has a LSP in place that allows them to undertake assessments in an alternative format, then making these adaptations for the student to an assessment set before the marking boycott began would be appropriate.
3. If there is a live presentation and a hand-in, are both “assessment”?
This depends on the process:
- If the presentation is assessed, you should attend the presentation but not participate in discussions about marks, submit marks, or write down any notes that could be used to determine a mark.
- If not—and assessment occurs separately on the basis of material submitted later/independently—then the oral presentation would not be boycotted, since it is not the assessment point. Informal feedback at that stage would not be breaking the boycott.
4. Is the boycott for permanent staff only, or should others, such as graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) take part?
To be successful this action requires a coordinated, critical mass of UCU members to participate so that marking duties cannot simply be passed on to colleagues. To achieve maximum leverage it is absolutely crucial that members stand together.
GTA participation is a fundamental part of achieving this critical mass.
For guidance about how to take part in the MAB as a GTA, please see the document below:
Finance is, of course, a huge worry for precarious workers. For more information on how you can be supported financially, please see the Support for members portion of this document.
5. I am on probation and marking & assessment is included in my objectives; can the university my HoD justify not continuing my employment if I do not meet my objectives due to participating in the marking boycott?
There are some things to note here:
- it does happen that people do not meet probation objectives for various reasons, and this does not necessarily mean that they would not continue to be employed.
- the marking boycott is part of legal industrial action and it would be illegal to dismiss someone based on their participation in the action within a few months of the action.
- when the marking boycott is concluded/resolved, members taking part in the action would be asked to resume marking & assessment responsibilities, and it is likely that these would be prioritised over other forms of work.
- probationers should be emotionally prepared for comments about union activity in the nature of ‘I can see that you may be involved in union activity/industrial action and I note that you are on probation’, but should be aware that this does not mean that your continued employment is actually at risk.
- if a member on probation does take part in industrial action, they can ask for alternative duties to be allocated to them provided they do not involve assessment.
- if a member was at risk of not getting their permanent position due to union activity, they would be prioritised for case work.
The recruitment process at this university is cumbersome and, irrespective of the above, we think it unlikely that a department would decide to not keep someone on because they have participated in industrial action. If they didn’t get the permanent position, the position would still need to be filled, the department would likely need to make a new business case for the position, re-advertise, go through the interview process, and then whoever they appointed would need to go through probation.
6. Can I “mark and park”: do the work but keep it to myself for later?
We don’t advise you to do this: completed assessment material is the property of our employers, and could therefore be demanded by them in order to mitigate our action.
7. What happens when we are on annual leave, and afterwards?
When you are on leave, you should be paid as normal, irrespective of the boycott. In the hope the issue has been resolved through an acceptable offer by your return, you could resume assessment. If not, the boycott would continue.
7a. Should I complete the TAS?
If you are locked out for taking part in the boycott, then you should have been told not to work, and you should not complete the TAS
8. Can managers ask other UCU members to cover marking?
They can, but under ASOS they should refuse to do so. Our current action includes refusing to cover for colleagues, and staff members and GTAs can choose to not take on this work.
Any member of staff who is eligible to be a member of UCU can choose to participate in legally notified action (such as this), even if they are not currently a member of UCU.
9. What if I am given extra work to make up for boycotted work (not related to assessment)?
If it adds up to a reasonable workload, then ask your manager whether there will be any pay deductions. If you’re going to have pay deducted, you should not be doing extra work! If no pay will be deducted, it is perfectly fair that you should be assigned other duties, provided they’re reasonable.
11. Notifying the University
Members are under no obligation to declare their intent to take part in any industrial action before it begins, and we advise members to decline to respond to any such questions relating to their participation.
The university has notified staff that ‘The University expects that from 9 June – the last day of the semester – staff who have marking and assessment related duties will be focusing on this critical activity. If staff have chosen to participate in the boycott, their decision will be clear from this date. Therefore departments will be contacting staff with these duties to ask whether they are participating in the boycott from 9 June onwards.’
You should answer honestly if you are asked after this date.
12. I am being chased for marks for a departmental deadline prior to 9th June; do I need to inform my line manager on this prior date that I will not be submitting my marks?
You can respond to any such request by referring to the email sent by Ian Wright in which he states that ‘The University expects that from 9 June – the last day of the semester – staff who have marking and assessment related duties will be focusing on this critical activity’. Thereby neither confirming nor denying that you are participating in the boycott.
You can adapt the text below as you see fit.
My marks for this module/this assessment are not available at this point in time. I note that the director of HR, Ian Wright, has specified that ‘The University expects that from 9 June – the last day of the semester – staff who have marking and assessment related duties will be focusing on this critical activity’.
13. My line manager has asked me to provide details about work that I am currently not doing, assessments that haven’t been set, marking & moderation I have not done.
You should avoid providing information that would make it easier for your department to mitigate your action.
14. What is a lockout?
Our university has elected to adopt the most punitive and hard line of responses to our participation in this boycott, by deducting 100% of salary from those participate, from those who participat in the boycott from 19th June. When an employer deducts full salary in this way, it is sometimes called a lockout.
When an employer conducts a lockout by withholding 100% of pay, you are not expected to, nor should you, engage in any work for your employer
A lockout is fundamentally distinct from strike action, in that it is the decision of the employer to withhold pay.
This section will be added soon.
12. What financial support is available?
If you have not yet applied to the national fighting fund for the full 11 days entitlement of strike pay, and you are in need of financial support, please do this first! Based on your salary you are eligible for either £75 or £50/day. This money can be claimed for up to a year after the industrial action. UCU has now extended access to the fighting fund for up to 20 days from the previous 11 days for those subject to 100% deductions for the boycott.
SUCU is also setting up a wage sharing scheme separate from the fighting fund, further details will be available here shortly.
All you need to apply is:
- your membership number, and;
- evidence of deduction from your salary or loss of earnings for strike action.
If you have already applied for your full entitlement, including the additional days recently authorised by the NEC, and you are still in need, please do not hesitate to apply to our local hardship fund.
13. How can I support UCU members taking part in this boycott if I am not?
There are two major ways in which SUCU members can support those who are taking part in the boycott.
- Please do come to (some of) of our branch meetings
- Second, join our wage sharing scheme that has been set up specifically for the marking and assessment boycott, you can pledge to donate part of your salary here
- Alternatively, you can donate to our hardship fund
Please also ask any friends and family who are not in this branch to consider donating to our hardship fund. The University of Oxford UCU has been twinned with us, and their members will be asked to donate to our hardship fund as well to support us.
To donate to the Sheffield UCU hardship fund, you can do so using these details:
- Account name: UCU Sheffield 70 Hardship Fund
- Sort code: 60-83-01
- Account number: 20391171
- Account Type: Business
14. How can I keep in touch with other UCU members while doing this?
This will be a hard time for us all, we have no illusions about that. But by supporting each other and standing together, we can prevail.
Speak to your colleagues whenever you can, and speak to your rep. If you don’t have a rep, why not organise a small (or large) meeting in your department or work area yourself just to chat about any issues you might be having. If you can’t come along to the daily meetings, or if additional questions arise, you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org.
14. What will happen afterwards?
Union members are likely to need to do any outstanding marking when the boycott ends, and marks will need to be processed and submitted according to the University’s procedures. At this point, extraordinary exam boards may need to be convened.
The national negotiation, and our negotiations locally, will ensure that members will have a reasonable amount of time and/or assistance to complete any outstanding marking, and health and safety law with respect to safe workloads will apply
This could lead to marking delays into the summer period. If action is suspended then there will have to be a negotiated timeframe for turning marks around that is reasonable given our working hours and on-going ASOS.
Here are some suggested steps about how to have effective organising conversations with co-workers during the MAB and beyond:
1. Greet your coworker in a friendly manner and explain that you are a UCU member.
Explain that you are doing the rounds of offices in your department to talk about the upcoming marking and assessment boycott.
For conversations with non-members, clarify that you are seeking to speak to everyone about the MAB as the outcome of our negotiations affects all of us.
Please remember that we are aiming to speak both to academic staff and to Professional Services staff with admin responsibilities for marking and assessment.
2. Give your co-worker a chance to respond/ask questions before you go on.
Typically, people will take the opportunity to ask questions or share their views on the disputes or other workplace issues.
Remember: demonstrating genuine care and trust lies at the heart of all good organising conversations and we do this in part by really listening to our co-workers! You should aim for a 3:1 listening to speaking ratio.
3. Respond to any questions raised about the union, the disputes and/or the MAB and validate any concerns.
Explain that we are organising for an MAB, which is a different form of action than the actions we have taken previously, and that we believe this form of action will provide us with greater leverage at the bargaining table because of the impact on awarding degrees and financial implications of this for our employers.
4. Gauge their level of familiarity with the union and the dispute.
Co-workers will range from those who are very supportive of the action to those who might have an active antipathy towards the union – and everything in between! Do not make assumptions about people’s trade union backgrounds, knowledge base or views of the dispute. Instead, respond on the basis of what is arising in the conversation and meet people where they are at (i.e., if the person you are speaking with seems unclear on what a trade union is, you will need to explain that first.)
5. Ask your co-worker directly if they will commit to participating in the MAB – including if they have not yet been assigned marking and assessment responsibilities for this term.
If they are a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe’ and are not currently a member, please encourage them to join the union. To help facilitate this, take down their name and contact information and follow up as soon as possible with a short email directing them to the link to join:
6. Answer any additional questions, let them know about upcoming branch or departmental meetings or other union activities.
Reaffirm that our strength in bargaining is our numbers and that you were glad to have a chance to talk with them.
How do you handle objections or resistance from co-workers?
- Acknowledge and affirm the feeling that someone has expressed if they are
- unsure about joining the union or about the marking and assessment boycott.
- Address the underlying concern or question that has led to the objection (for
- example: fear, disappointment in the union’s record to date, lack of information).
- Ask a question that takes people back to the issues at hand: we can both validate
- our coworkers’ feelings (e.g. fear, skepticism) and at the same time encourage
- them to see that we have the potential for a big win if we take this action together
- Listen more than you speak (3:1 ratio)
- Practice active listening: repeat and reflect
- Validate and empathise – take time to talk through concerns
- Respect people’s intelligence
- Speak from the heart about why this matters to you and convey hope that we can win
- Talk down to people or over-intellectualise
- Be antagonistic or assume bad faith
- Minimise or brush away concerns
- Assume you know better – everyone is in an expert on their own experience
- Remember: the root of all good organising is genuine trust and care. You’re not there to sell something or win a debate but to help your co-worker feel confident taking action!