Safe pairs of hands

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Teachers like job-shares - and so do their schools. Jean Maskell reports

Job-shares can be a godsend to teachers who want to keep working at times of increased personal res-ponsibility, such as after maternity leave or when caring for an invalid. But they also mean schools can keep hold of experienced staff and increase the range and flexibility of skills available.

Most jobs can be shared - certainly a refusal to allow part-time working could be legally challenged.

But the assumption that those who job-share have kissed goodbye to any chance of promotion mistakenly persists. Sarah Jones and Marilyn Duggins - who have been job-sharing for seven years in Handsworth, Birmingham - this month took up a C allowance teaching post at a new school, Starbank Primary in Small Heath.

They fell into job-sharing partly by accident. "I knew that I didn't want to work full-time after my first child, and I met Marilyn just as she was going on her second maternity leave," says Sarah. "We saw a job advertised and as a bit of a joke applied as job-sharers ... and got it."

They have since covered maternity leave for each other and occasionally done supply - "it's brilliant", says Sarah. "I can't ever see us going back to full-time." The euphoria in part comes from being accepted as serious applicants for promotion - they were once refused two application forms by a school which told them "we don't have job-sharers here".

There were four full-time candidates for the Starbank job. Sarah and Marilyn were interviewed separately and were asked the same questions. They found out later that they had given the same answers. After seven years of job-sharing, Sarah says: "Although I didn't really know Marilyn before, I liked the way she worked, our skills complement each other and we've worked hard at it. We phone each other every night and meet once a week. We know exactly what the other thinks."

Debbie Smith, a primary teacher, had been on maternity leave for her third child and faced a return to Overdale primary school in Knowsley with some trepidation. Looking after the family and working full-time had left her stressed and tired, but she did not want to give up her career.

Marjorie Twist, an official of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, who advised Debbie and her job-share partner, Julie Sherriff, believes job sharing offers more protection for women. "Conditions are better than part-time. Should a full-time post be available they will be given the first opportunity and should one job-sharer leave, the second can take the full-time job."

It's worked out well for Debbie and Julie. "The ATL explained the differences in contracts and rights between part-time and job-share," says Debbie.

"It supported us through the process and we felt protected about job security. We had confidence in the local education authority - they had come up with a job-share policy and we knew that the personnel officer was fair. The school governors fully supported us."

Debbie is still able to have responsibility for science and Julie for IT as they each work two-and-a-half days a week. "Julie and I had been friendly for years," says Debbie. "We need a planning book, but we have a constant dialogue and ring each other up anyway."

Debbie is not as stressed and tired and has no plans to returnto full-time work. "I've started to enjoy teaching again and the kids have noticed it, " she says. "One of the benefits of job-sharing is that they get two fresh teachers!"


* Know your rights. The local education authority and your association or trade union will advise you on employment policies, including other flexible options.

* Plan and organise liaison well.

* Work with someone that you like and trust completely. Job-share is a close partnership.

* Take time to explain to parents, colleagues and governors; job-share is still unusual in some settings.

* Be prepared for passive opposition but stay calm. If you have planned well, you can find ways of working that satisfy all situations.

* Take into account time needed for training and meetings.

* Make clear meeting and speaking times; avoid the trap of long cross-over periods.

* If applying for jobs with a job-share partner, ask how you will be assessed and interviewed.

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