In one school a science teacher after the birth of her fourth child asked for her contract at the school to be changed from full to part-time because of the burden of looking after four small children, only one of whom was at school.
This put the school into a quandary because the timetable required a full-time teacher and close on six months of the school year remained.
The school could not afford both a part-time science teacher as well as the full-time supply teacher who had been covering for the maternity leave.
The situation was resolved to everyone's relief by the agreement of the supply teacher to take on a part-time contract for the remainder of the year.
Not all such situations will end satisfactorily. It is more than likely that many women, especially single mothers, may face the predicament of an employee of the Home Office who, after the birth of her second child, asked if she could return to work on a part-time basis because of the difficulties she had experienced with the care of her first child.
The Home Office refused on the ground that she only had the right to return on the same contractual terms as before.
In addition, the department policy was not to allow part-time posts in her particular executive officers' grade.
She complained that this amounted to indirect discrimination, arguing that in spite of undoubted changes in women's role in modern society, there was nevertheless a heavier burden on women in raising children.
The industrial tribunal agreed that the requirement to work full-time was detrimental to her and that her employers had failed to justify their policy.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed with this, merely adding that each such case must stand on its own facts. other circumstances may not necessarily produce the same result (The Home Office v Holmes 1984).
Chris Lowe is legal consultant to the Secondary Heads Association