Career Clinic

9th December 2011 at 00:00
This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about promotion for part-timers and retention allowance

Will my illness hold me back?

I am considering going part-time next year due to ill health, if my school permits me. I am, however, very concerned that this will destroy any future chance of promotion. I am only 27 and have been teaching for five years with excellent results and a good record of performance management.

I think the health issues are more likely to affect your career than the fact that you are working part-time. As you probably know, you have no right to substitute a part-time post for your current full-time position, so although you may see the need, the school may see its priorities differently.

In essence this is one of those wider ethical issues of the world of work. You have to balance your health needs; the head and governors have to balance the needs of the school. I would hope that the school would be sympathetic to your request for part-time working, but it might not be.

Sometimes a job-share can work, if you can find a person willing to share a full-time post. But most schools would, I suspect, prefer a full-time person in a post with responsibility, not least because someone may have to take decisions when you are not present and the fact that arranging meetings to fit in with part-time staff can be a challenge.

So what will the effect on your career generally be? I guess the key point is whether your health issue is short-term or will last for the rest of your life. If it is something chronic, but not acute, do you see yourself ever returning to full-time work? If not, the sensible strategy is to start looking at how you might develop your strengths. You have probably 40 years before retirement, and you may not want to remain in an entry-level job for the whole of that time. If you cannot see a way forward for your career in a school, then you would be wise to look to an environment where part-time working is more acceptable for promoted posts.

Obligation vs ambition

I work in a very challenging school. I was offered a recruitment and retention allowance for this year and I accepted. However, a job has now come up that I want to apply for. Am I able to apply for jobs even though I am receiving this allowance or am I obliged to stay?

Many teachers will think you are exceptionally lucky in the present climate to have even been offered a salary supplement to stay in your current school. However, your enquiry poses both a technical and a moral question.

The technical issue is easy to answer. If the payment was in the form of an up-front golden handcuff, then at the very least the school might expect you to repay a third of money for every term of the year you did not complete. However, if you are just paid an addition to your monthly salary, spread throughout the year, then technically the normal rules apply, and all you need to do is provide adequate notice if you see another job you want to apply for.

But here the moral dilemma kicks in. By accepting the implied terms of the allowance - to stay for a year - are you going back on the spirit, if not the letter, of the agreement? You would be justifiably angry if your head said, in January, that they could no longer afford the payment from the start of the new financial year in April.

Are we just in work for what we can get out of it? Since teaching jobs are subject to open market recruitment procedures, I am convinced that the only person in charge of your career is you. But, just occasionally, I wonder whether some decisions we make also bring with them obligations.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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