The quality timers

28th June 1996 at 01:00
More teachers work part-time - many through choice. Fred Redwood finds out why they want a shorter week. The number of full-time teaching jobs has fallen in the past five years - despite a rise in pupil numbers. On the other hand, opportunities for part-time teaching have increased; the number of staff not on full-time contracts has risen by a quarter since local management was introduced.

Currently there are some 65,000 part-timers, representing 7 per cent of the teaching force, compared with 40,000 or 4.1 per cent of the total in 1984. Schools clearly enjoy the commitment and greater flexibility part-timers can provide.

A recent OFSTED report (Teacher Supply: The Work of Part-time and Returning Teachers 1994) found that the quality of work of most part-time teachers was well above the national average. They were considered "well-qualified, enthusiastic and competent". Headteachers thought they represented "good value for moneyIeven though they tended to be paid at a relatively high point on the classroom teachers' pay scale".

But what do part-time teachers get out of the arrangement? Sue Baxter works a little more than half of a full timetable as the head of drama (SNS+2) at The Downs Comprehensive, near Newbury. She thinks that the school gets the best of the deal.

"I spend proportionally more time on school work than I could possibly manage if I were working full-time. In other words, I think that I really give about three-quarters of my week to school work when I take into account lessons, preparation time and the countless hours given to school productions. If I worked full-time, then I wouldn't have time for any sort of life at all outside school."

Although it might appear that she is losing out in this contract, Sue Baxter is happy with the personal benefits of the arrangement. She has heavy family commitments and directs or acts in local productions. Working part-time allows her to have a full but manageable lifestyle.

"I get the satisfaction of doing my job properly, instead of having to cut corners. Also, if I were teaching full-time then I'd be so busy that I would dislike some of my teaching workload - in a subject like drama that would be obvious to the children. The quality of my teaching would suffer."

Paul Risoe also believes that pupils benefit from their teachers being employed part-time. Paul, an artist who has exhibited widely including at The Royal Academy, teaches history of art for half a timetable at Downe House School, Berkshire, and gives the rest of his time to painting, freelance lecturing and further study. He claims that his "other life" enriches his teaching.

"A danger in teaching is that you become stale. Being part-time gives me a chance to research new subjects fully and keep abreast of current ideas.

"As far as the department is concerned, it benefits from having a variety of teachers with different interests and enthusiasms. It creates an energy which can be missing with only the same long-term teaching staff year-in, year-out. "

The increasing number of young people staying on in education has been a crucial factor in the numbers part-time sixth-form teachers.

At Peter Symonds College in Winchester, the intake of students aged 16 or more has grown by 50 per cent in the past three years. Keeping up with this expansion and staffing new courses has posed problems.

Luckily, Neil Hopkins, the principal, found a local reservoir of part-time lecturers when IBM pruned staff numbers dramatically.

"Many of them wanted to do consultancy work from home but they were grateful for the bed-rock salary from their part-time work at the college. We have been delighted with them - they are well qualified and their recent experience in industry gives them a certain credibility in the eyes of the students."

Television and radio writer John Morton also teaches at the college. "In subjects such as English and media studies it is an advantage to have somebody on board who has made successful contributions himself," says Neil Hopkins. "John's humour shines through all his teaching and I am sure the two jobs complement one another."

Insecurity has been a problem for part-timers; half the teachers employed on part-time contracts are employed for a "fixed term", though new regulations now mean the employment protection for regular fixed-term and permanent contract holders are now very similar (see box left).

Also, OFSTED found that many part-time teachers had problems in "coping with subject specific developments, the requirements of the national curriculum, related assessment procedures and the application of information technology".

Sue Baxter says: "Part-time contracts can work well. But it is up to employers and staff to make sure that everyone's needs are satisfied. The part-timer must be kept up-to-date with subject knowledge by being included in in-service training. Little things like department heads arranging for meetings to take place on the days when a part-timer is working can make you feel valued as part of a team."


Since February 1995, on completion of two-years employment with the same employer, part-timers, irrespective of the hours worked or whether the contract is fixed-term, temporary or permanent, are entitled: * not to be unfairly dismissed

* to claim unfair dismissal at an industrial tribunal

* to a written statement of reasons for dismissal

* to redundancy payment if dismissed for redundancy

* to reasonable time off to look for other work during a period of notice for redundancy.

Previously, those who worked between eight and 16 hours had to wait five years for this protection and those who worked fewer than eight hours could never establish employment rights. Dismissal would now almost certainly be ruled unfair if a member of staff were selected for redundancy on the grounds that he or she was part-time.

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