Careers - Get a slice of life

20th November 2009 at 00:00
You'll take home less money, but think of what you could do with that precious time away from school. Going part-time can transform the way you feel about your job, but beware the pitfalls

Part-timer? It can sound like a put-down. But for many teachers, going part-time is a positive, life-changing move.

"The best thing I ever did," says Helen Dermawan, an ICT teacher. "I now have Fridays off, and that one day makes a world of difference. When I worked full-time, school took over, but now I am healthier and happier. If you want to have a life and stay sane, part-time is definitely the answer."

You can apply for advertised part-time posts or for full-time posts as a job-share. But in fact, most part-time positions are the result of informal discussions. Heads are not obliged to accept your request to work fewer hours, but with Ofsted rating the work of part-time teachers "significantly above" the national average, most schools see the benefits of flexible working.

Of course, you will be paid proportionately less. Whether you negotiate a fair deal depends on how your timetable is configured. If all your teaching is in blocks, then great - but if you are working in the morning and again at the end of the afternoon, you could end up stuck in school all day but getting paid less money.

There are other pitfalls, too. Some part-timers say that it is hard to prevent planning and marking expanding into free time. Others say that even though they teach part-time, they are still expected to attend staff meetings, parents' evenings and training days.

An NUT survey found that one in three part-timers felt discriminated against in terms of workload or working hours, so establish in advance what you are expected to do. Technically, a 0.5 contract refers to the amount you will be paid - half a full-time salary - and the work you do in return should be negotiated and set down in writing.

The good news is that teaching offers more opportunities for flexible working than most other professions. And going part-time need not hinder your career. There are headteachers who job-share and plenty of deputies and heads of department who work part-time - though it can be a tough act to pull off.

"It is hard because I teach 0.8 of a timetable, but I can't only do 0.8 of my head of department duties," says Ceri Henkus, head of modern languages at St James High School in Devon.

"It means the days I do work are hectic, with lots of meetings in my lunchbreaks. But it is worth it to have Wednesdays free. I am a widow with two young children and it's nice to have some 'me' time."

Performing a middle-management job on any less than 0.8 may be tricky. But there is always job share, which in any case offers greater flexibility. For example, husband and wife Kate and Martin Rose share the head of art post at Birkdale School in Sheffield while both work as professional artists.

"If one of us has a big commission to finish, then the other can take on more of the teaching for a while," says Kate. "Job-sharing allows us to have two different and fulfilling careers."

Points to consider

- Working part-time affects your pension, but not your movement up the pay spine.

- If you have a child aged under six, you have a statutory right to request flexible working.

- If you are unsure about your contract, consult your union.

- The number of part-time teachers has almost doubled in the past 15 years.

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