All of the recognition for some of the time

Susan Purcell

Susan Purcell urges teachers' representatives to wake up to the reality of their part-time colleagues' lives.

The proportion of people who work part-time in education is said to be as high as 40 per cent, yet this large minority is still marginalised and frequently regarded as if they are not good enough to find a full-time job.

In a recent edition of The TES the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers gave the following simplistic piece of advice to those intending to work part-time - "Don't". This unhelpful comment does not address part-timers' real concerns and does not reflect the reality of the situation.

Yes, of course I would earn more, get holiday pay, pension entitlements and so on if I had a full-time contract. But because I am also a parent I would have to spend three-quarters of my salary paying the wages of a nanny. Childminders may be a cheaper alternative but they are unlikely to provide a taxi service to swimming, music and dancing lessons and all the other after-school activities that my children and their classmates do.

Arranging childcare can be a very complicated business but there is also the anguish involved in leaving one's children in the care of other people. The recent jailing of a childminder for shaking a toddler in her care to death is a mercifully isolated incident, but whenever such things happen parents everywhere feel more anxious.

Having a family life to lead is by no means the only reason why teachers work part-time or on short-term contracts. My main subjects are Russian and German and I would be hard-pressed indeed to find a full-time job in one school or college, teaching just those languages.

My local further education college of 5,000 students has no full-time language teachers. Much of the work of college modern language departments is in offering short, profit-making, intensive language courses to businesses. Teachers are hired at short notice on contracts, teaching for the number of hours and wherever the client requests.

Such jobs may not sound attractive to middle-aged men who talk about the importance of job security, but working mothers like myself feel that they are currently our best option if we want a compromise between work and looking after our children. Last term I had two sports days, two concerts, a music festival and a school play to attend, all during school hours.

My children's school needs parents like me to help out with swimming lessons and on school outings, and I want to help. Part-time work is the only way I can fit in all these, to my mind, vitally important activities.

Yes, part-timers want financial and job security, but we need our union representatives and professional association officers to recognise that we do not need to become like them to achieve this. A more flexible and family-friendly approach on the part of schools and colleges, recognising the outside commitments of all employees, would benefit the profession as a whole.

Susan Purcell is a teacher and teacher trainer in adult education.

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