Part-time teachers can expect a better deal when new regulations come into force in April. The regulations will give part-timers the right to the same conditions and hourly rates of pay as full-timers doing a similar job.
In theory part-time teachers in state schools are already employed on the same terms and conditions and receive the same pro rata pay as full-timers. But in practice many are treated less favourably than their full-time colleagues. They are often denied promotion, and when a school needs to save money they are the ones whose hours - and pay - tend to be cut.
Some part-timers face the added problem of a timetable so spread out that they end up trapped in school for virtually the whole week, although they are paid only for the hours they teach. Others receive no extra pay for attending training sessions or staff meetings on days when they are not timetabled to teach.
In secondary schools, payment for non-contact time is also sometimes an issue. "Part-time teachers are getting an amount of pay which on the face of it looks pro rata," says Joe Boone, assistant secretary for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. "But what are they being paid pro rata for? The problem is the lack of a single, national interpretation. It's down to individual schools."
The regulations mean that teachers who have experienced discrimination will be able to complain to an employment tribunal, which could order an employer to pay compensation.
"This is not going to do away with all discrimination against part-timers, but it's a welcome step towards recognising that they are a valuable resource, not just to teaching but to society as a whole," says Janet Joule, solicitor for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
One independent school has already had to pay compensation to two PE teachers after turning down their application to job-share.
The teachers were already working on a job-share basis when the school decided it no longer wanted this arrangement, and advertised for a full-time PE teacher. The two put in a joint application but found themselves out of work when the job went to a full-timer.
The NUT started employment tribunal proceedings on the two teachers' behalf, relying on unfair dismissal law to argue that they had been given no reason for being sacked and had not been considered for alternative employment.
Recognising that the school had little chance of winning the case, the governors offered the teachers an undisclosed sum in compensation.
"We did settle the case in their favour, but in future we would have direct recourse to the part-time work regulations and be able to claim that they were being treated less favourably than full-time teachers because they were working part-time," says the NUT's assistant secretary, Kay Jenkins.
In another recent case the NUT managed to save the job of a part-timer who had been threatened with redundancy if she did not agree to switch to full-time work. The teacher had been working in an infants school in Stoke-on-Trent, which merged with a nearby junior school. The head of the merged school originally said there were no places for part-timers in the new staffing structure. But he agreed to let the teacher carry on working part-time after union officials complained that full-timers had been considered for the new structure, while the part-timer had been deemed expendable.
Arguing that schools often treat part-time teachers like second-class citizens, the NUT's regional secretary for the Midlands, Brian Carter, says: "In the past we've used grievance procedures and gone down the moral argument route, but having statutory back-u means we will no longer have to do that. Once we draw the regulations to employers' attention we anticipate that they will change their attitude."
The part-time work regulations come on top of other measures designed to promote fairness at work. These include 13 weeks' parental leave for men or women needing time off in the five years following a child's birth or adoption, with part-timers entitled to the same leave, on a pro rata basis, as full-timers.
Part-timers will also get the right to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergencies involving children, elderly parents or other dependants. In addition, people who have been unfairly dismissed can claim compensation after just one year in a job, rather than two years, as in the past. So unless school governors have good reasons for refusing to renew a one-year contract, they could find themselves in front of an employment tribunal.
Traditionally, most teachers claiming to have been unfairly sacked have settled their claims out of court. But with the maximum amount of compensation for unfair dismissal having been raised from pound;12,000 to pound;50,000, the financial incentive to take these claims all the way to an employment tribunal has been strengthened.
Questions and answers * Why is the Government bringing in the new rules?
Ministers say they want to make sure part-time employees are no longer treated as second-class citizens. They also want to encourage more people to work part-time.
* Will it be easier for teachers to switch from full-time to part-time work?
Not necessarily. Unlike the European Union directive on which they are based, the regulations do not require employers to consider requests from full-time employees wanting to work part-time. But combined with recent employment tribunal rulings that employers should not turn down applications for job-sharing or part-time work out of hand, the regulations may encourage schools to look more favourably at such requests.
* Will part-time teachers' pay be affected?
Only if they work in those independent schools that do not offer national pay and conditions. Teachers employed on part-time contracts in state schools are already entitled to the same pro rata pay as full-timers.
* If rates of pay don't change, what difference will the regulations make to part-time teachers?
Part-timers who can prove discrimination - for example, because they receive no payment for marking and preparation - will be able to complain to an employment tribunal. The teacher unions hope the regulations will also encourage schools to produce contracts that spell out exactly what hours part-timers are expected to put in both inside and outside the classroom.
* Will part-time teachers be able to go through the new performance threshold and win a proportion of the pound;2,000 pay rise available to other teachers?
That remains to be seen. Most part-time teachers are women juggling work and family responsibilities, and if the extra money goes to people who are heavily involved in extra-curricular activities or take advanced qualifications, part-timers could lose out. "It's very difficult to undertake an MA, for example, while you are looking after a young family," says the NUT's Kay Jenkins. "So there are factors which could count against part-timers and we feel these should be taken into account when their pay is assessed."
* Will the regulations help supply teachers and those on temporary contracts?
Only if they work part-time. But an EU directive intended to end discrimination against temporary workers comesinto force next year. This is likely to make it harder for employers to use a succession of fixed-term contracts lasting less than a year to deny temporary workers the rights enjoyed by other employees.