12th November 1999 at 00:00
Q: Two teachers at our school have decided that they'd like to change to a job-share. We aren't very happy about it but we don't quite know where we stand. Are we under any obligation to agree to job-sharing? Could you please give us chapter and verse?

A: If you had sent your address I might have asked some more questions to make sure I had the whole picture. We never disclose or publish writers' names and addresses and I also send a private reply on request, so you need have no fear.

There is nothing as far as I know in education law about job-sharing. I think there may be circumstances in which it is held to be sexual discrimination if women with young children are denied the option of part-time work but I cannot be sure how far this would apply in your case. You may find that you are under some pressure from your LEA to encourage job-sharing within the terms of its equal opportunities policy, but they can do no more than persuade. And I suppose an individual school might have an equal opportunities code of its own covering job-shares, but you would know if yours does.

So the simple answer is that the employment of staff is a matter for governors and head to decide. I could not advise you without knowing more about the situation and you would be well advised to take advice from employment specialists in your local authority. I do know all the arguments against job shares in schools and can understand why many schools are resistant, even without taking account of the extra costs they involve. They can, with the right people and circumstances, represent very good value for money for just the same reasons, as well as being a contribution to equal opportunities.

They obviously depend for success on very good organisation, first class communication and compatible personalities and approaches to the work. I think they are more likely to succeed with two people who already teach at the school and have worked together, and possibly are easier to organise in a secondary school than a primary school, since it is more likely that divided responsibility and accountability for particular classes can be avoided. You will I'm sure give this very careful thought and make a wise decision based on your knowledge of the school's needs.

Q: I teach in a very popular community secondary school. To my horror I find that teachers' children are no longer automatically given places and one of my colleagues has already failed to get his son admitted. Is this legal?

A: It's legal if it is part of your LEA's approved admissions criteria, and has not been affected by a successful appeal to an adjudicator against the policy, or to the local independent appeals body on behalf of a particular child.

I imagine that your LEA did at one time give preference to teachers' children and have now changed the rules, which is unfortunate for teachers who have made assumptions about their personal rights when taking on the post, but not unusual.

The criteria only apply, of course, when a school is over-subscribed. Quite commonly in these circumstances teachers' children come immediately after siblings in priority, but I get the impression that in current reviews of admission rules this is quite often being questioned.

I personally think there's a lot to be said for giving teachers this priority if they are happy about the child's being in their school. It gives a good message when teachers show confidence in their own schools and it often eases pressure on families where several members travel in all directions, especially at a time when choice of schools seems to increase the distances travelled.

I can understand, however, that because successive governments' policies (especially following the Greenwich judgment) have put many successful schools under intense pressure, the granting of priority to teachers may cause ill feeling among disappointed families living very near the over-subscribed school and be seen as a form of queue-jumping.

Local policies have to be sensitive to these factors, which vary immensely in scale from place to place. If a large number of local parents are disappointed their reactions could of course be very harmful to a school, and its teachers would in turn be anxious to avoid this.

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