9th October 2009 at 01:00
I'm head of department in an independent school. Despite the fact that I am on a 0.5 contract, I am expected to go in five days a week and some of my lessons are spaced out. How long do I need to be on site?

As a teacher employed by an independent school, you have the same employment rights as if you were employed in a state school, therefore you will be entitled to the same statutory rights. Your contract of employment may provide you with better and more detailed terms and conditions and if so, those will apply. You will also be legally entitled to a statement of particulars within two months of your start date setting out your hours of work, holidays, pay etc.

It is important that your employer provides you with a job description so that there is no ambiguity of what is expected of you.

If you work in an independent day school, your working week would be averaged over 17 weeks. The working hours in an independent school are governed by the Working Time Regulations 1998. If you are contracted to be on a 0.5 contract, they cannot expect you to attend five days a week unless this is done with your consent as they would be varying the terms of your contract of employment.

It is well known that teachers in independent schools (and in general) are made to work excessive hours. This may be difficult to challenge if a contract of employment contracts out of the Working Time Regulations. If you have not contracted out and feel overworked, seek support through the unions andor legal advice. If you are not part of a union, it may be advisable to join one. In the first instance, however, you should address your concerns with your employer directly by attending a meeting and then following it up in writing if you are concerned about the impact the long hours is having on your health and safety or work life balance. It is important that you feel supported by your employer if you raise genuine concerns.

Anita Chopra is a partner at Match Solicitors www.matchsolicitors.com

The key here is the difference between the time you are contracted to work and your actual timetable. Part-timers can often find their lessons spread out over several days, and while this is not ideal, it can be a reality, especially in a school with a heavy loading of part-time staff. The main issue is what days and hours are actually stated in your contract.

The question of how long you are expected to be on-site is a trickier one and often comes down to the ethos and etiquette of a school. The independent sector is just that - independent - and this means it is not bound by Teachers' Pay and Conditions (although some schools choose to be), so pay scales are school specific and often exceed those of the maintained sector. Core hours are usually 8.30am-3.30 or 4pm for a day school, but the breadth of extra curricular activities on offer mean staff can be on site for an extra hour or so at the end of the day, or run events on Saturdays. The flip side of this, of course, is that independent sector terms, while intense, are shorter than those in the maintained sector, and staff workloads, though busy (yet made easier by the smaller class sizes), cannot be described as excessive.

Judith Fenn is head of schools' services at the Independent Schools Council.

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