Don't get tied up in knots

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Elizabeth Holmes points out some potential pitfalls of temporary contracts, but says every post is valid experience

The contract offered with a teaching post may not seem important when you have just secured your first job, but with evidence that temporary contracts are on the increase, newly qualified teachers need to be circumspect when accepting a job offer if it is not a permanent contract.

There are various kinds of temporary contract, but the ones concerning NQTs are fixed term and specific task contracts. Schools do have legitimate reasons for offering temporary contracts, for example, to allow for falling rolls (fixed term) or to cover for maternity leave (specific task), but they can be seen as an easy way to "dismiss" a new teacher who is deemed unsuitable, should it be needed.

John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, is adamant that new teachers should not be seen as automatic "temporary" fodder. "If schools and the Government are going to put resources into NQTs then they should be seen as an investment. A school's commitment to an NQT would be reflected in the offer of a permanent contract."

Barry Gandy, of the National Association of SchoolmastersUnion of Women Teachers is also aware of the problems related to temporary contracts. "It is known that some schools appoint NQTs on a temporary contract as a matter of practice, for if they should prove weak it is easier for the school to not renew their contract than to take steps to support their professional development. In the view of the association this is malpractice."

If you do accept a temporary contract, you should be treated as any other newly qualified teacher. A full induction programme should be offered regardless of when in the school year you start. Make sure you don't miss out.

Picking up classes on a temporary contract can be problematic, especially if the pupils know that you will be leaving or if you have taken over mid-year. Make sure your school helps you to deal with the pupils in the transition period. Support at this stage will make or break your experiences.

Another area of concern is if you have to take a second temporary contract in a different school within your first year of teaching. Adapting to a new institution can be hard enough without the added pressures of having to slot in effortlessly mid-year, and the differences between institutions can be very marked. Your skills of adaptation, in terms of expectations of the pupils and relations with colleagues, will need to be well honed.

Yet temporary contracts are not all bad news. If a permanent position becomes available at your school, there is good chance you will be given the contract. That said, there is really no such thing as permanent. Jobs for life don't exist.

Temporary contracts also offer entry into the profession if you have been unable to secure permenant employment after qualifying, and some new teachers like the flexibility this gives them, especially if they are unsure about where to live or whether a teaching career is for them. Such contracts, however brief, also add greatly to your experience and the value of your references; teaching practice does not often allow for a rigorous reference.

If you are offered a temporary contract you should seek advice from your union as inappropriate contracts are sometimes used and adapted for different circumstances.

Also, make sure you know the termination date of your contract and the reason why it is temporary. If the post will be available beyond your termination date, you should be offered a contract renewal without the post being re-advertised.

Finally, fixed term contracts carry more employment protection than specific task contracts, which carry very little. If you are employed on a series of fixed term contracts, your employment rights regarding unfair dismissal and redundancy accrue after two years. But this looks set to be reduced to one year, so seek advice if you feel you have cause.

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