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Career development

It seemed so tempting. Could we take a year off, travel the world and return to teaching wiser and browner, without any problems?

The idea occurred after we were obliged to hold our wedding on the last Saturday of the summer holidays, with a one-day honeymoon in Windermere and back to school on the Tuesday. After such an anti-climax, the possibility of a trip of a lifetime became ever more alluring.

Finally, the offer of temporary work in Sydney meant the Big Trip just had to happen. Talks with the headteachers of the two schools we were working in made it clear our jobs would not be kept open. But with the shortage of teachers, job-hunting a year later should, we thought, pose no great worry.

What's more, we could return on the same salary point. We handed in our resignation letters, cashed in my pension and booked a ticket to everywhere.

With our house rented out and rucksacks full, we launched ourselves into the unknown, intent on chasing summer around the globe, and gaining experience you can't get on an INSET course. Seven countries later, and it was back to Blighty in time for the end-of-May jobs rush.

As hoped, we both found jobs easily. The salary level was no problem either, and we've been happily teaching away since September, occasionally flicking through the giant photo album and boring people with stories of cycling across New Zealand.

But in the New Year my wife was diagnosed with gallstones, and has since been forced to take time off. She is due to undergo surgery soon, and she will need at least another month's sick leave. Her employers told us that full sickness benefit - six months' full pay and six months' half pay, which we believed she was entitled to -- applies only after three years' service.

She had served that time before we went gallivanting, so what's the problem?

Well, the authority claims that while salary can continue on the expected spine point after a career break, all other entitlements drop back to NQT level and must be rebuilt. For sickness, this begins at 25 days off with full pay and 25 days on half pay in the first year, rising year by year to the maximum of 100100. We took the matter to the local secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. He confirmed that the regulations were being correctly applied. But the union's national headquarters disagreed, stating that while some benefits (maternity leave, for example) depend on continuous service, sickness benefit does not, and my wife should have been receiving full pay.

She hasn't, so I have had to take on a second job. Until the issue is resolved we will continue to suffer the sort of financial difficulties not seen since our van broke down in the Australian outback.

Serves us right, I suppose. Workshy layabouts.

Essential information for those considering going walkabout:

* The teacher's pension can only be cashed in if less than two years' service has been completed. The Teachers' Pensions Agency can be contacted on 01325 392929.

* UK teaching qualifications are recognised in most countries.

* Headteachers and governors will often hold a job open until a teacher returns from a year out. But take care to confirm the pay and conditions.

MILES HUDSON Miles Hudson is a science teacher at Longfield comprehensive school in Darlington.

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