Are you working full-time on a part-time salary?

Many part-time teachers are being asked to work for free to fulfil their leadership responsibilities, warns Emma Sheppard
19th December 2020, 12:00pm
Emma Sheppard


Are you working full-time on a part-time salary?
Woman, Working From Home Wearing Pyjamas & Slippers

It's a typical teacher mentality to work more hours than we will ever be paid for. But there's something almost exploitative about formally expecting an employee to do a full-time job on part-time hours.

Stories of part-time teachers working on their days off are, unfortunately, fairly common. But the smoke and mirrors that surround the topic of Teaching and Learning Responsibilities (TLR) payments and flexible working means that many middle leaders are officially being asked to work for free to fulfil their leadership responsibilities, or being discriminated against for their desire - or need - to work part-time.

When requesting flexible working, middle leaders are faced with an obstacle course of "yes" or "no" scenarios that might remind you of a relationship quiz in a teen magazine or an online medical diagnosis. Are you a head of department? Yes. Will your school allow you to complete your TLR on 0.8? Yes. What about 0.6? No. Game over. Step down.

Part-time: A slippery slope to unpaid labour

Depending on the attitude of school leaders and the needs of a department, the journey through such negotiations will meet blockades at different points. 

For some, the adventure will be very short, as too many schools still cling to outdated views on flexible working, which mean that we are haemorrhaging women, particularly between the ages of 30 and 39, and struggling to recruit returners to the profession. 

In the worst-case scenario, competent middle leaders find themselves demoted in both responsibility and pay, because appropriate solutions that are mutually beneficial to both school and individual cannot be found. Not only does this limit the positive impact of experienced teachers, but it also prevents them from continuing their career progression to senior leadership - simply because they requested part-time working hours. 

Unsurprisingly, this overwhelmingly impacts women, and particularly mothers. It, therefore, contributes to the motherhood penalty in education, and thus to wider indirect gender discrimination.

Where schools are able to grant part-time hours to their TLR holders, teachers then find themselves on the slippery slope to unpaid labour. 

Typically, TLRs are paid pro rata, but this leads to a many-spoked junction in our TLR quiz. Are you still responsible for the whole TLR? Yes. Are you willing to relinquish part of your TLR and risk deskilling yourself? No. Are you willing to work 0.2 of this TLR for free? 

For many, the answer will be "yes", because they are so relieved that their flexible-working request has been granted. They may be able to work efficiently, or extend their daily hours, to fit the TLR responsibilities into their working days and safeguard their day off. Or they may feel obliged, like so many part-time teachers, to spend their days off completing leadership tasks, in their desperation to prove it can be done, or the hope of freeing up time at the weekend.

No more unhappy compromises

There are a number of ethical solutions to this niggling issue of unjust TLR payments. All of them, however, require the confidence to challenge the system - not an aggressive snow-globe shake-up, but a polite but persistent jiggle. 

Firstly, it is highly unlikely that your school's flexible-working policy refers to TLR payments, which is part of the reason why this conversation isn't happening very loudly. To declare officially that an important middle-leadership role will only be partly completed, or that teachers are expected to work for free, is treading dangerously on malpractice.

While this lack of policy can often leave teachers feeling forced into unhappy compromise, it can actually also provide a strong starting point for negotiations.

School leaders cannot simply default to the excuse that policy prevents them from giving TLR holders their fair pay, because such a policy would be indirectly discriminatory to women who continue to dominate the caring roles that motivate their flexible-working requests.

Instead, middle leaders can suggest workable solutions: pro rata pay with full TLR payment or pro rata TLR payments as part of a job-share with a deputy head or another middle leader. 

Taking agency over their working practice, middle leaders could evaluate their job specifications and decide upon the tasks that they are happy to relinquish in favour of providing colleagues with developmental opportunities or small promotions.

More ethical still would be for senior leaders to edit their flexible-working policies to include clear guidance around what the school is willing to consider when it comes to part-time working and TLRs. Simply indicating that the topic is "negotiable" can make staff feel more confident about requesting conversations, rather than fearing prejudice and reprisal. 

Where schools prefer greater transparency, they can set clear boundaries regarding the minimum days needed to fulfil a certain role before job shares need to be considered, and offer clarity about whether TLRs will be paid pro rata or according to the quantity of the TLR fulfilled. This can be helpful in ensuring that everyone feels treated fairly.

Emma Sheppard is founder of The MaternityTeacher/PaternityTeacher (MTPT) Project and a lead practitioner for English

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