Career clinic

2nd March 2012 at 00:00
This week Professor John Howson answers questions on phased retirement and London salary weighting

Seeking to reduce hours

I work in a primary school and have been employed there for the past 34 years. I now feel it is time to consider the possibility of phased retirement as my father's health is rapidly deteriorating. How do I approach my headteacher about this? Others at my school have already reduced their working hours.

You can but ask. It might be worth talking to the staff and parent governors as well as the head, and perhaps suggesting that there should be a school policy on staffing issues and job shares.

I can see this from both sides: you have given very loyal service to the school and now want something in return, but the school has already altered its staffing patterns to accommodate other members of staff and may not be able to handle another change to job-sharing.

The head needs to weigh up what might happen if you are forced to work full-time and become a primary carer for your father. Your teaching might suffer because your mind would not be wholly on the job; there would be occasional and unpredictable days off (although this might happen on days you were working even if you worked only three days a week) and you would probably leave promptly at the end of the day and miss some continuous professional development activities. Your contribution to the wider life of the school might also be reduced.

In the end, it will come down to what sort of person your head is. If I were in their shoes I would look to broker a compromise that would offer you something, but not everything you want immediately. That would be with a view to further reducing your working hours over the next couple of years in a way that allowed the school to continue functioning effectively.

Sick of commuting

I am now on maternity leave following the birth of my second daughter. We live just outside London, and for the past two years I have been commuting. I am a class-based deputy head in a primary school but would like to work nearer home. However, I am concerned about the lower salary.

Your situation is quite common. However, you are viewing the issue from your own perspective of what you would like. That is perfectly reasonable, and nobody else may care about your career or work-life balance when you are trying to find a job.

However, the wider perspective at present is that there is an over-supply of primary teachers. This should evaporate over the next few years, but it is still a reality at present and means heads hold all the cards when it comes to hiring staff. The salary differential between Hertfordshire and Inner London is there for a reason - without it, London schools would struggle to find staff.

If a job in a local primary school offers better quality of life, and sufficient income, you would be right to take that over the commute. In the end, we cannot always have everything we want, and must make choices. Work out your priorities, and go for the option that fulfils the largest number of them. I suspect that working locally, and saving on travelling time and money, might be top of the agenda as it would leave you with more time for your family.

However, you may find it easier to secure a new job as a deputy head than as a classroom teacher. As a classroom teacher you would have to be employed at the top of the upper pay spine and you will be competing with NQTs, who are cheaper to employ. It is worth considering the benefit of the larger salary you would receive in a management position, particularly now you have an extra member of the family.

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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