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21st November 2003 at 00:00
It could tempt many back to the classroom but can jobshares really work? Jill Parkin reports on the pros and cons

The flipcharts were out and a group of two dozen or so heads from Norfolk schools were illustrating the problems and pressures of running a school.

There were the angry kids, the vacant kids, league tables, money worries and recruitment and retention.

The point of this day in King's Lynn was the Ramp;R problem, which recruitment consultants Flexecutive believe could be partly solved by using jobsharing to keep good staff and coax some of the nation's 300,000 non-teaching teachers back into the classroom.

The heads in the room had a mixture of attitudes and experiences. Some were simply reluctant; some had come to grips with the new laws on flexible working but were using them to retain rather than recruit; a handful - including one head who is the only full-time worker at her small primary school - were keen.

With more than a third of teachers leaving within their first five years in the classroom, jobsharing would seem like a smart move in the retention game. But it remains rare, especially in secondaries, where most male headteachers are less sympathetic to the demands of juggling work and family.

In true occupational psychology style, the workshop rolled on from flipcharts to brainstorming in groups. What were the benefits of and barriers to jobsharing?

The benefits to the school included increasing the expertise pool of a small school; reduction of staff stress because both were fresh; greater value for money because part-time workers yield a more than pro-rata input; retention of valued staff; reduction of supply costs; and having older staff to mentor newly-qualified teachers.

Barriers included a jobsharer's possible reluctance to take whole school responsibility for a curriculum area; fear of setting a precedent; budget strain if you pay both for handover time; guilt about exploitation if you don't; pupils' response to different teacher discipline and aspirations; parental concerns about stability; increased paperwork, including two lots of performance management; finding the right replacement if one half leaves; governors' reluctance; and the fact that literacy and numeracy lessons are daily rather than coming in blocks to suit the strengths of the jobshare teacher.

The list of cons was much longer than the pros. Then Carol Savage, chief executive of Flexecutive, came up with some research likely to encourage heads.

"Forty per cent of teachers working full time would like to reduce their hours. That is, 44 per cent of female full-timers and 29 per cent of male.

Seventy-three per cent of teachers find part-time work more attractive than supply," she said.

There is also the legislation. Some heads saw this as the place to start with requests because it was a good way of saying "no" on the grounds that it wasn't in the interests of the school. One pointed out that it allows a time-limited trial which often suits both parties.

Under the new employment Act, which came into force in April, parents of under-sixes and of disabled children under 18 have the right to request flexible working practices, including jobsharing, as well as other flexible options not suited to teaching, such as home working and shiftworking.

Norfolk LEA has a history of helping teachers who want to work part-time and advising heads on the practicalities.

Gillian Boon, recruitment strategy adviser for Norfolk, says: "Almost all jobs could be undertaken on a jobshare basis, including the most senior management posts. The essential factor in all cases is that the partners undertake the work with a clear determination to make the liaison and communication truly effective and set up clear allocation of duties, expectations and responsibilities beforehand.

"As with all appointments, the secret to success is in making the selection of the right person for the job, whether that is in a joint application for a full-time equivalent post or in finding a partner for an established member of staff."

One head at the workshop was faced with three jobshare requests in the summer term, after the resignation deadline. One was an outstanding teacher she wished to keep and two had a good case under the legislation, with children under six.

She accepted them all, employing a new member of staff. The two parents agreed to work full time until January when the new teacher could start.

Linda Talbot, head of Manuden primary in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, has worked in a jobshare and also managed them. She feels there are advantages, such as the chance to bounce ideas around.

"Of course it isn't all plain sailing for the head. There is more report writing, organisation and admin, but in return I get two professional and dedicated teachers who reduce the workload on other staff. I don't pay for handover time, like some heads, but I find my teachers very accommodating," she says.

"They come in for staff meetings and training days, which we alternate over the year as much as possible to make it fair on both jobshare partners.

They also meet to plan and discuss issues that arise and complete their admin on their days off.

"I have heard that other heads have had problems convincing parents, other staff and governors. But if you set down your requirements - with some leeway - others will come round."

Stephen Adamson, acting chairman of the National Association of Governors and Managers (NAGM) believes that governing bodies should be supportive of well-designed jobshares for classroom teachers.

"It needs to be well thought out. But where there are shortages it seems rather backward to turn away good teachers.

"Jobsharers tend to give a lot and it can also be a way of helping a good teacher who may want to come back full time later on."

JOBSHARE MATCHMAKING

Flexecutive runs a free-to-teachers service to help find jobshare partners, as well as part-time or temporary posts on line. The company works in partnership with several local education authorities.

Flexecutive posts flexible vacancies on its website and emails vacancies to suitable teachers on its database. Schools are given a list of matching teachers. Flexecutive runs a jobshare register so teachers can contact possible partners by email.

There are three types of service. If a group of 50 schools signs up it costs pound;100 per school per year. If a school joins individually or as part of a group of fewer than 50 schools, it costs pound;200 per year per school. A one-off advertisement placed by a school costs pound;60.

see www.tesjobs.co.uk for link KING'S LYNN WORKSHOP TIPS

* Have a half day at least when both teachers cross over at school.

* Make sure both get to staff and planning meetings alternately.

* Announce the jobshare at a parents' meeting and ask for their feedback.

* Be realistic about how much extra time your jobsharers will give.

* Be clear about the job description so personalities do not turn the shared job into senior and junior roles.

* If there are several jobshare requests all citing stress, have a long look at your expectations of your staff.

* Expect that it will bring you more paperwork.

* Make sure your jobsharers realise they will need to communicate with each other and with you.

* Do not assume jobsharers have no promotion hopes.

THE RULES

* An employee must have been in the job for 26 continuous weeks before applying in writing to change hisher work pattern under the Employment Act 2002. One application a year is allowed.

* You must arrange to discuss the application with your employee within 28 days of receiving it.

* Within 14 days of the meeting you must write to the employee saying either yes or no. If no, you must provide reasons and set out the appeal procedure.

* An employee has the right to appeal within 14 days of your letter. Within 14 days you must meet to discuss it and within another 14 days you must give your decision.

* As a last resort an employee may take the case to ACAS or an employment tribunal.

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