As a growing number of redundancy notices hit the mat - the latest estimate is that 14,000 teachers will lose their jobs by September 1996 - women teachers are discovering that they are the losers in a discriminatory and confusing compensation system.
"Young women put their children first and end up penalised," said Zoe Image, an advisory teacher who is taking voluntary redundancy from her job training new teachers in Lambeth. Her department is being streamlined to cut costs, and Zoe and three colleagues were aware that they were unlikely to find jobs in the new set-up. Because she interrupted her career to bring up two children, Zoe has received half the redundancy lump sum offered to her male colleague, Mark Smith, who is a similar age and has a less responsible position.
Her pension also suffered. It was a bombshell to find out that her 13 years of part-time work while her children were growing up counted for nothing. When she returned to work, no one had bothered to tell her that all part-timers must opt into the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme; deductions are not made automatically as for full-time workers.
As a result, she will receive less than a third of the value of Mark's pension; at the age of 49 and after 20 years in the education service, her pension amounts to Pounds 3,000 a year and her redundancy lump sum is Pounds 13,221; she is now planning to sell her house so that she can survive until she finds work.
After 16 years on a full-time salary, Linda Staines, who works in the same department, has received a redundancy lump sum of around Pounds 8,000, but only after energetic lobbying from her union and because she has kept every pay slip she has ever received. When her first child was born, Linda accepted her headteacher's offer of a supply job for two days a week, placing her eventual redundancy entitlement in jeopardy; unbroken service on a proper teaching contract is what counts when it comes to calculating the lump-sum payment.
"No one made clear to me what a cataclysmic decision I was making," recalls Linda. "At that stage, I would not have known what an unbroken service record was if one had hit me in the face. I feel cheated. If my partner were in the same situation, it would be much easier for him to get his rights."
Linda has only avoided a derisory deal by the skin of her teeth. After her second child was born two years ago, she was planning to return to work part-time, which would have halved her redundancy settlement. Regardless of how many years someone has worked full-time, the redundancy offer is based on their current pay.
Fortunately, when Linda realised that redundancy was in the offing, she was eventually able to negotiate full-time work.
Another colleague, Fiona Collins, has also suffered because, 18 months ago, she opted to work part-time so that she could complete a PhD. Although Fiona had worked full-time continuously for almost 15 years, her redundancy payment of Pounds 3,157 is based on her part-time salary. She has lost pension rights, too. Money to cover her superannuation contributions was deducted from her salary, but no one told her that, as a part-timer, she must opt into the scheme for the contributions to be valid.
The Lambeth team has received some excellent, if belated financial advice from a redundancy consultant they paid themselves; many organisations offer this service free to their employees as a matter of course. Thanks to his help, Mark and Zoe have managed to buy back some missing years of superannuation contributions. But disappointment and worry over their financial entitlements have added to the anxiety of redundancy; all of the team have suffered from stress-related illness since they received notification of impending redundancy.
Although Mark is happy with the deal he has received, he feels embarrassed and upset at the way his female colleagues have been treated. "It's a gender issue," he said. "The financial arrangements are satisfactory for me because I've never had to take time off to have children or look after them."
(One name has been changed at the interviewee's request.) Part-time pitfalls
The NASUWT advises women contemplating a part-time job: * Don't do it. Part-time teaching is so insecure that this is not an option to recommend.
* Go for a job share. This counts as a full-time permanent post and protects full redundancy and pension rights.
* If you do go part-time, check that contracts specify the number of days and sessions worked, and that they are full-time sessions. This avoids quibbles later about the exact length of time worked.
* All payment should be in return for the sessions worked; a "0.5 job" should mean that you have worked five sessions per week. Again, this should prevent arguments about salary and redundancy entitlement.
* Opt into the Teachers' Super-annuation Scheme.
* Don't sign contracts with waiver clauses; you could waive your rights to redundancy.
This advice is contained in "Pregnancy and Work - information and calendar", available free to NASUWT members from: NASUWT, Hillscourt Education Centre, Rose Hill, Rednal, Birmingham B45 8RS.