Part-time pitfalls

20th November 1998 at 00:00
The number of part-time teachers has doubled since 1985. But are they still undervalued? John Caunt reports

Is it possible to work part-time and still keep your career alive? For some the answer is a resounding no; for others, a cautious yes.

There are 64,000 qualified part-time teachers in maintained schools in England and Wales. They account for 7 per cent of the full-time equivalent teaching force, and since 1985 their numbers have almost doubled.

Part-timers have the same statutory employment rights as full-time staff, and since 1995, when the law was clarified, an entitlement to proportional treatment on matters such as salary progression, staff development and pensions. Not all employers have taken on board the implications of these changes.

Brian Clegg, assistant secretary of the second biggest teachers' union, the NASUWT, asserts that the lot of part-timers has worsened since 1989 because of local management of schools and the pressure it puts on heads and governors to find the cheapest staffing solution. This has meant increasing casualisation of the workforce through more fixed-term contracts, reduction of local authority supply pools and growth in agency staff.

However, many heads, while acknowledging the financial strictures, would claim commitment to fair and stable contractual arrangements, the benefits of which outweigh costs.

Uncertainty about staffing requirements from one year to the next is a major problem for those on fixed-term contracts.

Some employers use variable-hours contracts as a means of offering greater stability and continuity. The staff member has a permanent proportional contract set at a level the school knows it can guarantee. A variable element, up to an agreed maximum, is negotiated from year to year.

A common complaint is lack of access to staff development, but this has not been the experience of Anne Srokosz. As a half-time geography teacher in Southampton she is studying for an MEd with funding from her school.

On the other side of the training coin is an expectation that part-time staff will turn up for meetings and in-service on days they would not normally work. Anne Srokosz recognises this problem, but suggests that where the school is prepared to offer reciprocal flexibility, training needs can be met without unduly exploiting the part-timer's goodwill.

Proportional posts are not heavily advertised, and many part-timers get jobs through direct approaches to schools and colleges. Malcolm Fieldhouse, who works part-time in a learning difficulties unit in Southampton, says:

"You need to get your foot in the door. If the school finds you valuable, they will offer you further work."

In a profession that still has a full-time mind set, there is little doubt that part-time teachers are undervalued. If recruitment shortages are to be met, a change in attitudes might be in order.

TIME TO THINK.

If you are thinking of working part-time:

* Look for good employers. Attitudes vary across the country, but even within an area some schools and colleges look after their part-timers better than others.

* Don't be afraid to follow up posts which are advertised as full-time. Employers may be prepared to consider a part-time appointment in order to get the right candidate. Towards the end of the summer term, schools become anxious about posts to be filled for September. You may be able to exploit your availability at that time.

* Don't let yourself be stereotyped. Part-timers have different motivations and aspirations. Make sure that the school or college is aware of yours.

* If you are thinking of moving from full-time to part-time, check the options for preserving your pension position.

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