Marking & Assessment boycott 2023 FAQs

[Please note this page is being updated regularly. If you have questions that don’t appear here, contact your departmental rep / the branch committee. See here for key boycott information]

Should hourly paid lecturers (HPLs) and Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) take part? And if so, what if assessment is paid out only on condition of marking?

To be successful this action requires a coordinated, critical mass of UCU members in each institution 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. HPLs and PGRs (GTAs) should most certainly take part. Casualisation is one of the key issues in the UCU Rising dispute – and the more inclusive the boycott, the stronger the leverage.

Finance is, of course, a huge worry for precarious workers. If Kingston senior leadership decides to deduct 100% pay for participation in the boycott, all staff, including casualised staff, should claim strike pay from the national UCU Fighting Fund.

How would any deductions be calculated for Hourly Paid Lecturers / Visiting Lecturer / Graduate Teaching Assistants?

HPLs cannot be penalised more harshly than permanent / salaried colleagues. So they can’t have all their pay deducted (comprehensive hourly rate) if salaried staff are not facing 100% deductions. All pay deductions for industrial action have to be made by HR and recorded on pay slips as such. Line managers cannot deduct pay by not signing off on pay claims on Unified. If your line manager does this, contact us immediately.

It’s important to discuss as a branch how to support and protect all members whose employment is precarious, whether on a fixed-term contract or on probation. It’s unlawful to penalise either for taking part in industrial action – but departments need to have open dialogue to ensure that those who are vulnerable are well-supported.

How can I get / give support for the boycott in our local branch?

Join the KU Boycott Support Group Whatsapp group.

Come to our regular online meetings throughout the boycott period: Daily 10.00am on Zoom. These meetings are a place of support and guidance to make sure that no-one feels alone in this action.

Be a departmental rep – we need points of contact within each department to convene meetings as a department to coordinate and support each other through the boycott and feed back any questions or issues to the branch committee. (This role can be shared). Within departments we can identify who is most ‘exposed’ and work out ways of supporting them, work out the most effective way to target action, agree not to ‘cover’ work and talk (politely) to others who may not be observing the boycott as well as students and admin colleagues.

This is a learning process for all of us and mutual and collective support is going to be the key to our success. In particular, we expect that more senior and experienced colleagues will play a major role in supporting newer colleagues and especially those employed on precarious contracts in each department.

Do I have to tell my employer that I am participating in a marking & assessment boycott as part of action short of a strike (ASOS)?

You are not required to declare in advance of industrial action whether you are taking part.

Once action has started, if members are asked directly if they are participating in ASOS, they should answer truthfully. But you do not have to say how long you are taking it for and you should respond only in terms of what action you have taken/are currently taking, not any future intentions regarding ASOS. UCU guidance states: ‘If you are asked directly whether you participated in ASOS in the past or are participating in it now (whatever the timeframe, be it last week, yesterday, or today) you should respond truthfully, but you should not declare your intentions regarding future action.’ Line managers should not therefore be asking you to declare participation in advance of any assessment deadlines. If asked directly after a marking deadline has passed if you are participating, you can answer honestly.

Members are not required to write to a Head of Department or Line Manager in a formal way about this, only to respond to direct requests to them as a named individual. You should answer a direct request for information about your current individual participation in ASOS truthfully. This does not require completing generic, blanket HR forms intended to undermine industrial action (which do not provide any information about the secure storage or retention schedule for the personal data collected, e.g. regarding trade union membership). Find a template response to send in reply to HR emails from last year’s local boycott here.

Migrant members should note there is separate UCU guidance regarding declaration for staff on sponsored visas: “Migrant members on sponsored visas who are participating in the current marking and assessment boycott (starting 20 April 2023) should notify their employer as soon as possible after beginning to take action of their participation in this industrial action. This is because it is important that employers have an accurate record of reasons for any absence or reduction in salary for the purposes of reporting under their sponsorship requirements.” See the full guidance here: Advice for Migrant Workers Taking Industrial Action.

With managers, the most practical approach is that you have dialogue about this, when absolutely necessary, in the course of work activities and deadline demands. Colleagues need to be careful not to reveal to other staff or students a member’s ASOS actions without the express permission of that member.

It is also worth noting that senior managment cannot prove that a UCU member is participating in the marking & assessment boycott until after their marks and feedback should have been returned. In other words, don’t discuss other members of your department with your Line Manager, or ‘report’ on members of your team. Managers may ‘guess’ that someone is likely to be boycotting, but they can’t assume that, or penalise them without evidence.

What should I do if I am asked by my line manager or employer to cover a duty which is part of the marking and assessment boycott?

You should seek the instruction in writing (e.g. email) and then respond as follows on the day work is due [NB. you do not need to declare your ASOS intentions in advance]:

‘I am unable to attend this meeting / mark these scripts / invigilate this exam because today I am taking part in UCU’s lawful industrial action in the form of a marking and assessment boycott. I am continuing to perform all my normal duties other than those affected by the marking and assessment boycott and any other lawful action short of strike / industrial action currently called by my union.’

Find a fuller template response to line managers / Heads of Department here

Can I lose my job for participating in a marking & assessment boycott?

Because UCU has carried out a statutory ballot and the action has been formally called, the law protects workers from dismissal while taking part in lawful industrial action.

The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 gives all members of the UCU specific protection at work from victimisation on grounds of union membership or participation in union activities.

Can my probation be affected for participating in a marking & assessment boycott?

University staff, regardless of probationary status, have the right to participate in official, legally sanctioned industrial action. It should have NO negative impact on employment or confirmation in post.

If a manager has threatened to fail your probation as a result of participating in industrial action, contact us.

How can I inform my external examiner about a marking & assessment boycott?

External examination may not be covered by the boycott as examiners will not have been balloted at the institution they are examining at and have an external contract with. UCU guidance states you should carry out your obligations under this contract but also take the steps outlined here.

Find a template email to send to external examiners about the boycott here.

Should I remove marks from Canvas for marking that has been completed before the boycott was launched?

No, the boycott only covers marking taking place during the boycott period. However if processing of those marks (moderation, downloading and uploading .csv files, ratification on OSIS etc.) happens during the boycott period then do not undertake it.

What happens when marking starts before the boycott but will finish after the boycott begins?

The pace and scheduling of marking / assessment is up to individuals. It may be that some work in a module is marked and some is not. That should mean that moderation can’t take place and results can’t be published. Managers may try to work around this, but that isn’t the responsibility of those who are taking lawful action. We advise people to carry on ‘as normal’ until the boycott begins and then ‘down tools’.

This doesn’t mean that students with mitigation or accommodated assessment are unfairly impacted, because no marks should be released unless a whole cohort has been assessed.

Can I just mark and park? i.e, write feedback and grades and keep them on my laptop?

Officially, marking and parking is not something that can be advised, as completed assessment material is the property of our employers. Our marking & assessment boycott means we will not be generating any marks or formal written feedback for the duration of the boycott. This also means that members should not carry out any assessment activity on Canvas, should not share assessed material amongst colleagues, nor should they participate in moderation or standardisation meetings, etc. Our ultimate objective is not to refuse grades/feedback to our students. We want to be able to return assessments and exams to students who have worked hard to complete their work. But in our current dispute, not generating marks and feedback is a strategy through which we can pressure UCEA to meaningfully negotiate.

Any notes entered on a work IT system can be considered University property and you could be required to submit them, for others to use.

What happens when the boycott ends? Will I have to do the marking?

Whether marking will still need to be completed after the industrial action is over will depend on how long the action lasts and what, if any, mitigations the university puts in place. If marking still needs to be carried out after the action ends, it will have to be completed in a reasonable and safe time frame.

If you are given what you consider to be an inappropriate or unreasonable instruction to speed up marking and assessment, or if you are given what you consider to be an inappropriate or unreasonable amount of marking and assessment, contact us.

How do I make sure that I’m not adding to the workloads of others – such as departmental administrators – through the action?

It is crucial that we work closely with administrative teams to ensure that this does not happen. There are a few ways to mitigate against this:

  • Map out the timeline of assessments and the moments where they are likely to receive a high volume of student enquiries or complaints;
  • UCU members can set up a staff/student forums within departments to introduce the boycott and discuss the action in their module teaching and communications.

Members of academic-related and professional services staff who are UCU members can participate in boycotting activities related to assessment.

How can I tell students about the boycott?

You can share the following statement in emails and Canvas announcements: ‘Kingston staff who are members of the University & Colleges Union (UCU) are participating in a marking & assessment boycott as part of industrial action. This may delay the release of final grades. Staff are committed to supporting students throughout this action. Read information, including a letter from Kingston UCU to students regarding the marking & assessment boycott, here.

We recommend setting up meetings with course reps to inform them about the boycott and provide them links to all the information. They can contact Union of Kingston Students to voice demands that Kingston senior management take steps to end the boycott by entering meaningful negotiations with UCU in good faith. They can also write to Heads of Department regarding how responses to the boycott might impact them, and write to the VC urging him to withdraw threats of pay deductions and use his power to resolve the dispute. They can sign the NUS’ open letter to UCEA demanding they settle the dispute and end the boycott.

How can I support students applying for postgrad courses / applying for funding / applying for jobs? 

You can continue to support students with applications for jobs and further study, including by providing references which include predicted grades. Although they cannot write or refer to submitted grades, such supporting letters / references may explain the context of the industrial action and give an indication of performance while noting that grades will come at a later date.

What about giving feedback to my students?

The marking and assessment boycott does not prevent staff from giving informal oral or written feedback to students on their work at their discretion. However, you should not upload grades or feedback to Canvas or commit numerical grades to writing on any university system.

What about international students whose visa status may be dependent on receiving grades?

If you have international students in your course, whose visa status is dependent on receiving grades on time, please contact UCU head office for further advice.

Kingston University visa office knows there is a boycott and can communicate that, students can contact them at KU-UKVI: or KU-CAS: Students on visas can also contact Union of Kingston Students:

Does the boycott apply to both formative and summative work?

Yes, it applies to both. No feedback or grading should be given through formal channels like Canvas. For formative assessments, members can provide general support but should not provide any feedback from which any mark for summative assessments could be reasonably deduced.

If there is a live / oral presentation before a hand in, do both constitute assessment, making them both subject to boycott?

This depends on the process: if the presentation is assessed, that should be boycotted. 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, but you should not submit any written feedback or numerical marks, or participate in any moderation procedure.

In some cases, it is possible to attend some practice-based sessions but not to record formal feedback or grades. That is, you can attend and take notes but not go further than that. However, it is important that members do not take notes that could be used by others to mark or grade presentations. This is because notes taken (privately or otherwise) are the property of the employer and would need to be surrendered if asked for.

Is exam-setting covered by the action?

Yes. Writing exam questions for any assessment that falls within the mandate is covered by the boycott. If the exam questions are part of a revalidation exercise for another academic year, they wouldn’t be part of the boycott.

Are PhD upgrades and vivas covered by the boycott?

Vivas and upgrades are included in the boycott.

What happens when we are on annual leave. Do we have to return from leave and do the marking?

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.

Where can I find more information?