Know your rights

4th July 2003 at 01:00
An independent school may seem an attractive option after that difficult inner-city comp. But beware: your pay and conditions could deteriorate, says Susannah Kirkman

Be careful before taking a job at an independent school, as you may find yourself on a lower salary, with less time off and limited maternity and sick leave.

Teachers working in independent schools have far fewer rights than their colleagues in the state sector, warns Jonathan Restall, a legal adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Mr Restall reports growing concerns about long hours among staff trying to achieve a worklife balance. "People accepting a job in the private sector mustn't take anything for granted," says Mr Restall. "They will have no contractual right to holidays and days off as independent schools work intensively during term time, with plenty of extracurricular activities, so flexibility is at a premium."

Nigel Turner, a regional officer with the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, says some private schools don't issue contracts, or dismiss teachers after less than a year so they don't gain employment rights.

Most reputable independent schools follow model contracts devised by the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools, but the ATL advises teachers to ask for a copy of their contract before they accept a job.

You should find out about pay; although a few top schools pay above the national rate, private schools are not obliged to use the national scales.

Ask for a copy of the salary and allowances scale, and establish how pay is reviewed.

Make sure you know what your working week will be, particularly if you will be expected to work at weekends. How many days will you have to work outside term? If you are to have responsibility for boarders, you ought to agree on rest periods. A day and a half free of duties every week is reasonable, with at least one continuous break of 24 hours.

What about maternity pay and leave? Most independent schools will pay only statutory maternity pay, which is far less generous than the state sector.

As for sick pay, most private schools provide full pay for 25 working days in the first year, with an extra 50 working days on half pay after four months. This compares with a year's sick leave at a state school, half on full pay, if you have worked for the same employer for at least three years.

When it comes to retirement, most schools are members of the Teachers'

Pensions Scheme, but some may offer only a personal or a stakeholder pension. If in doubt, contact your union for advice.

It may also be helpful to encourage the school to recognise your union, as union officials can then help by negotiating working conditions and other tricky issues with the head and governing body.

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