Thousands of part-time teachers are in line for an unexpected pensions boost after the Government closed a long-standing loophole making entry to the teachers' scheme automatic.
The Teachers' Pension Scheme is unique in the public sector in that it prevents part-timers from joining unless they specifically elect to do so.
Teaching unions, citing low take-up rates, believe their members have been losing their pension rights through ignorance of the rule.
This week they won agreement in principle from the Department for Education and Skills to make entry for part-timers and supply teachers automatic, as part of a series of changes to teachers' pensions that will eventually see the pension age raised from 60 to 65.
Sue Johnson, head of pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said no improvements would compensate for the five-year increase in the teacher pension age, but welcomed the decision on part-timers made by the Teachers' Pension Review Group on Wednesday.
Government figures show that in January 2002 there were 72,600 part-time teachers in the English state sector. But only 47,985 state part-timers were in the Teachers' Pension Scheme, representing a take-up rate of 66 per cent.
"If 34 per cent of full-time teachers were opting out of the scheme we would all be saying they made the wrong decision," said Ms Johnson. "We have been asking for this very welcome change for years."
An exact date for the change has yet to be fixed, but it could come in as early as next year. It will also affect teachers in further education, where the situation seems even more severe because 65 per cent of lecturers are part-time.
Ms Johnson said all serving part-time teachers who had not already joined the pension scheme would be included automatically as soon it came in, unless they decided to opt out. But she warned it was unlikely to be backdated.
The decision, made by the union, employer and DfES representatives who make up the review group, is expected to be approved by the Teachers' Superannuation Working Party before the summer and will then have to be rubber-stamped by Parliament.
A DfES spokesman said there had been no final decision, but Ms Johnson said she believed it was as good as signed, sealed and delivered.
Part-timers were not admitted to the TPS at all until 1967. Since then a series of conditions have gradually been relaxed.
The planned rise in pension age from 60 to 65 caused uproar among teachers when it was revealed by The TES last summer.
The Government has since guaranteed that it will not affect anyone aged 60 on or before August 31, 2013.
A GREAT STEP FORWARD, BUT TOO LATE FOR SOME
Jane Rendle welcomes the news thatpart-timers are likelyto be given automatic entry to the Teachers' Pension Scheme, although it has come too late for her.
A secondary school maths teacher in Bradford, she decided to move from full-time employment to working a four-day week in 1990, so she could spend more time with her eight-year-old daughter.
She received a form from the LEA asking her if she wanted to elect to stay in the scheme.
But, short of money at the time, she decided she would buy back extra years at a later date.
It was not until 1996, by which time she had become a local National Union of Teachers officer, that she realised she had made a mistake that had cost her four-and-a-half years worth of employers' contributions, along with what she estimates is a loss of pound;1,500 a year from her final pension.
"I think this is a great step forward," she said of this week's decision. "I just wish they had done it 14 years ago."