Work-life balance - Less is more

26th September 2008 at 01:00
Working part-time or job sharing allows you to balance your career with other interests or childcare, says Sudhana Moodley

Robert Hardy is a nationally acclaimed painter, but his role as head of art at a private school in north London took its toll. "The full-time treadmill left me with no time for my art," he says. "This was catastrophic, as I cannot exist without it."

After 11 years as a full-time teacher, Robert chose to go part-time in 2001 - a path more teachers are choosing to acquire a better work-life balance.

There are currently about 65,500 part-time teachers in primary and secondary schools in the UK, according to the most recent workforce statistics, and the trend shows no sign of abating.

Working part-time not only reduces stress, it also gives teachers an opportunity to explore their talents and enjoy success in others aspects of their life.

Robert, still head of art, now teaches three days a week at the Swaminarayan Independent School in Brent. He says that he loves teaching, but his life is defined by his art.

"You only get one chance and you have to seize it and make it work," he says. "I am a better teacher for having time to do my art." So how does this impact on the school? Nilesh Manani, headteacher of Swaminarayan, believes the pupils benefit from the expertise of a successful, practising artist and "inspirational teacher". It is a win-win situation for the school and Robert.

The flexibility of working part-time is a common draw for teachers. Working and enjoying time in the classroom is equalled with time devoted to children, or other pursuits. The other popular choice is to job share. This enables teachers to utilise their skills, develop their career, provide effective parenting and create a unique support network that allows them to share planning and teaching techniques.

Jenny McMahon, a job share teacher who works at Pippins Primary School in Colnbrook, Berkshire, says working two and a half days a week leaves her feeling renewed when she re-enters her reception classroom. "Teaching young children is emotionally and physically demanding, and I would not be able to give my best if I worked full-time," she says. "By job sharing, I can see to my own children and support my husband. It's an effective solution to getting the work-life balance right."

Julie Mann, her job share partner, says their close friendship makes the job more enjoyable. They were learning support assistants at the school before completing their teaching degrees together. They then discussed their applications and interviews with each other. Now they share the highs and lows of teaching the same class while learning from each other's strengths: Julie's "connection" with young children and Jenny's ICT prowess.

Nick Fry, the headteacher, concurs that the partnership between Julie and Jenny is based on a solid friendship and effective communication. Although he admits that inconsistencies can creep in, such as a different approach to classroom management, their freshness and energy makes it worthwhile.

Sudhana Moodley is deputy head and a Year 6 teacher at Foxborough Primary in Berkshire.


- Target your prospective school with care. Does it have a favourable attitude towards part-time teachers? Will there be opportunities to attend staff meetings and training?

- Find a job share partner before applying to a school. It makes life easier for headteachers and allows them to see the whole package before making a decision.

- Illustrate clearly how your experiences and skills beyond the classroom will help raise standards.

- Stay connected. Communication is key for job sharers. Use the school internet or intranet to keep in the loop.

- Discuss innovative strategies with your job share partner. Consider how you will maintain consistency and win over pupils and parents.

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