Heads are "out of date" and their old-fashioned attitudes are preventing thousands of talented women from working at the chalkface. This is the opinion of the civil servant responsible for ensuring a steady supply of highly qualified new entrants to the profession, who has attacked school leaders for their reluctance to offer part-time and flexible jobs to women.
Stephen Hillier has accused headteachers of wasting public money by preferring to employ newly trained graduates instead of experienced mothers wanting to return to work and also care for their families.
The chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools said heads "can't afford not to" bring back returners, particularly those trained in shortage subjects such as physics and chemistry. Mr Hillier supported his argument by pointing to Government data showing that 20 years ago some 15,000 teachers used to return to teaching each year. About half of those came back full-time, and half part-time. Today, the figure has dropped below 9,000.
"This now means that each year we are training, and schools are recruiting, 6,000 more newly qualified teachers than was previously necessary," Mr Hillier said. "Schools are the employers of teachers and only they can judge who it is best to employ. No one from Government or national agencies should try to usurp that function. On the other hand, taxpayers are entitled to wonder why we are spending 25 per cent more than we need to on training NQTs."
Mr Hillier said headteachers had told him they do not want part-time workers or job-sharers because it makes timetabling difficult, and because they do not trust these people to "maintain the necessary focus and intensity on driving up pupil standards of attainment". Some told him, he said, that they preferred the "energy and up-to-dateness" of new teachers. Others said they employed NQTs because it was cheaper.
"In my view, some of these attitudes are 20 years out of date. Bluntly, some of our schools are a lot more willing than others to embrace the modern work patterns that are now common in other professions," he said.
Mr Hillier, who was speaking at last month's Women Working Together conference, organised by the NASUWT teaching union, said he wanted the profession to eventually "be in the vanguard of modern practice in terms of flexible working patterns".
Certainly, female teachers seem to have a mixed experience. Julie Leoni, who works at the Marches School in Oswestry, Shropshire, went back to work part-time after taking maternity leave following the birth of each of her two children.
After her first child was born she returned as head of drama, working three days a week. After the second birth she started her current role of drama teacher, combined with teaching a master's course and a degree course for the community.
Many of Ms Leoni's friends work part-time. One feels "out of the loop" because she is not able to establish the same kind of relationships with her colleagues. Another had worked four days a week, but, after always finding herself marking at home on her day off, she decided to work full- time.
"My school looks at each case individually; it's tough for managers as they've got to do what's best for the children as well as the teacher," said Ms Leoni.
Unsurprisingly, however, headteachers have disputed Mr Hillier's claims. David Trace, head of Ramsey Grammar School on the Isle of Man, said he thought Mr Hillier was "out of touch".
"My school, which is fairly typical, has seven part-time female teachers and four teaching assistants who have come back from maternity leave from full-time previously to part-time subsequently. I am pleased to accommodate them and have not yet turned anyone down," he said. "In order to accommodate the needs of my seven we bend over backwards with the timetable at the expense of other important parameters. Four are heads of department on promoted posts."
One explanation, according to Professor Merryn Hutchings of the Institute for Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University, is that the hours of job-sharers often need to overlap to ensure continuity. "So that's more expensive and for this reason many part-time workers tend to be floating around different classes," she said. "That's not such a nice job and could deter returners."
Teachers' leaders echoed Mr Hillier's concerns. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the pace of change in education, instigated by Government reforms, was deterring people from returning to the profession.
And Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said school leaders should not be blamed for their "conservative employment practices". "They are more traditional than other organisations, but won't be against flexible working for flippant reasons," he added.
However, Mary Bousted, general secretary of education union the ATL, said there was a "bias against" flexible working in schools. "Employment processes are unnecessarily outdated, especially when you consider the proportion of women who are teachers and the fact most of them will go on to have children," she added.
The NASUWT agrees. "These are not working practices of the 21st century; this is taking us back to the Victorian attitude towards employment," said general secretary Chris Keates. "This is a dreadful indictment of the way schools are run. Headteachers clearly view flexible workers as people who are not going to be efficient or committed. Yet all the evidence shows employers benefit enormously. Stephen has exposed something which is scandalous."
How to work flexibly
Parents of children aged up to 16, parents of disabled children aged up to 18 and carers of a disabled adult are legally entitled to request a flexible working pattern.
You might be able to come to an informal agreement with your school leader. If not, apply in writing.
Once your application has been received, your employer has 28 days to arrange a meeting to discuss your request. They also have a statutory duty to give your request serious consideration.
Employers can only reject a statutory request for specific reasons set out in the legislation, rather than object in principle to flexible working.
Acceptable reasons include the burden of additional costs or an inability to recruit additional staff.
If your request has been rejected, you have 14 days in which to appeal to a panel drawn from the governing body.
If the governing body turns down your request you can take it to an industrial tribunal, but only on the grounds that the school has not complied with the regulations, or that you feel you have been discriminated against because of your sex.
PART-TIMERS LOSING OUT
74.6% of teachers in 2010 were female
Worked part time in 2000 - 33,300
Worked part time in 2010 - 58,700
Teaching workforce working part-time in 2000 - 7.9%
Teaching workforce working part time in 2010 - 12.7%
Number of entrants to the profession who were returning teachers
198990 - 47%
199900 - 27%
200708 - 18%
Department for Education figures show far fewer male and female teachers are returning to the workforce.
Original headline: Talent goes to waste as sexist heads shun women returners